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Wednesday December 31, 2014
Year End Summary: Goodbye, 2014. Let's hope that 2015 is even better.
• Personal: In January, we hosted a railroad-themed dinner party for some of our neighbors. Everyone had a good time. In February, we flew to Palm Springs for a two-week stay in nearby LaQuinta, CA.
In early April, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had surgery in mid-April and, in early June, began a regimen of chemotherapy which ended in mid-November. Recent tests show that I am now cancer-free. I have been the recipient of prayers from many friends as well as numerous readers of this blog and am delighted that these prayers have been answered. I am eternally grateful to my wife of 48 years who has been my loving caregiver throughout my medical ordeal. We celebrated her 70th birthday in July with a little party.
In November, we had two home heating systems replaced. Many of the components were from 1980 and were failing. We bought Carrier Infinity Stage 1 Performance Systems for both units (one two-ton, the other four-ton) and had the duct systems resealed and insulation added where needed. We also replaced one of our hot water heaters.
In 2014, I posted reviews of 48 books. My five favorites were 'Factory Man', 'Fizz', 'One Summer: America 1927', 'Memoirs Of A Hack Mechanic' and 'You Only Rock Once'.
• Car Stuff: In 2014, I managed to get some good drives in my '39 Plymouth coupe. I also visited the ginormous (almost 1,000 cars) Dr. George Car Show in February and took lots of photos.
This year, the General Motors Technical Center - once the symbol of GM's bright future - was chosen by the US Department of the Interior and National Park Service to be a National Historic Landmark.
I posted 10 new AutoSketches on my website this year. There are now a total of 58 car renderings online.
This year, Hormel Foods, the meat people, developed a motorcycle that runs on bacon grease.
2014 was The Year of Recalls, especially for General Motors. Dave Barry quipped, "A number of GM cars - the final total could be as high as four - were not recalled." The official death toll from GM's ignition-switch defect, initially pegged at 13, has risen past 40. Several lawsuits are pending, along with a reported federal criminal investigation. Revamped safety protocols unleashed a record string of recalls, covering more than 30 million vehicles globally.
In a televised auto ad this year, Matthew McConaughey, who starred in the 2011 movie, 'The Lincoln Lawyer', spoke slowly and calmly, delivering a stream-of-consciousness script in an attempt to hypnotize ad viewers into buying a new Lincoln MKC. It may have worked - as did SNL's The Amazing Alexander, "I loved it. It was much better than 'Cats'. I'm going to see it again and again."
In 2014, a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible sold for a record $3.5 million at auction. A 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California LWB Spyder gaveled down at a whopping $8,800,000. A 1962 VW Microbus sold for $140,250. Steve McQueen's Chianti Red 1967 275 GTB/4 fetched over $10 million at the August Monterey auction. And a 1966 Ferrari 365P Berlinetta Speciale went under the gavel for $26.4 million; it sold new for $26,000 forty-eight years ago.
In 2014, total U.S. spending on new cars hit $100 billion, according to Edmunds.com. Jeep was a big winner in the 2014 auto sales race; through 11 months, the brand's volume was up 44%.
• The Economy: The U.S. continues to improve but economic recovery has been sub-par in the area of job growth. Locally, employment is up but average wages remain stagnant. This parallels with a decade-long national trend, caused by a combination of automation and off-shoring of jobs. The flood of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and the refusal of the Obama administration to deport them will cause a dampening of job growth and will put additional strains on the already-costly entitlement budget.
Housing has bounced back from the Great Overbuilding of the early 2000s. Locally, the median sales price of a single-family house is up over 13% from a year ago. More housing is being built but more than one-third of the new units are apartments, a vast increase from a decade ago.
It is difficult to be overly optimistic, since it's likely that taxes, regulatory burdens and health care costs will rise for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration foisted more than 75,000 pages of regulations on the United States in 2014. Entitlement programs (food stamps, disability programs, Medicaid, etc.) will soon consume an impossible share of our national income unless drastic changes are implemented. Yet I keep hearing from politicians that these programs are "off the table." No one seems to want to do anything about our biggest national problem. Nevertheless, we are most likely years away from the next recession.
The stock market was up this year. Why? Because everyone else was doing worse than the U.S. We remain the tallest midget in the room. The Dow rose over 7%, while the S&P 500 increased over 11% (13.6% with dividends reinvested). I predict that the overall U.S. stock market will gain over 15% in value next year, with the Dow easily surpassing 20,000 by the end of 2015. This is far more optimistic than the consensus of forecasts by major Wall Stretts analysts; they are predicting a modest 6 to 8% growth in equity values.
Here's the basis for my sunny forecast: According to Barrons, the third year of a president's second term in office, the Dow Jones industrials have gained 18.4%. And during all second-term third years that followed two years in which the market gained, the Dow has been plus an impressive 18.7%. These statistics are based on data from 1896 forward.
But wait, there's more: Since 1940, the Dow Jones industrials have risen in every third year of a presidential term, gaining an average of 22.3%.
Furthermore, you should be aware that we're close to ending the Kondratiev cycle Winter (depression) and entering a new Spring wave when stocks and the economy soar. It's supposed to start in 2017, not coincidentally about the time we get a new U.S. president - hopefully one more competent than the doofus we have now.
The future looks rosy; if you're an optimist who likes historical statistics, start shopping for a new Ferrari soon. Or a Lamborghini Huracán.
• Passings: 2014 deaths included actress Lauren Bacall, child star and former ambassador Shirley Temple Black, former White House press secretary James Brady, three-time Formula One champion Jack Brabham, comedians David Brenner and Sid Caesar, British singer Joe Cocker, good friends Mike Duetting and Fran Willyard, '50s singer Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, movie and television star James Garner, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, comedic actress Jan Hooks, film actors Bob Hoskins and Mickey Rooney.
Also James Lileks' beloved dog Jasper, DJ Casey Kasem, Richard Kiel - the 7-foot-2 actor who played Bond villain 'Jaws', filmmaker Mike Nichols, veteran announcer Don Pardo, singer Paul Revere of Paul Revere & The Raiders, comic icon Joan Rivers, hard-charging Israeli general and prime minister Ariel Sharon, S. Donald Stookey - the inventor of Corningware, television journalist Garrick Utley, actor and comic Robin Williams, Olympic track star and World War II hero Louis Zamperini and actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
• Business Demises: Sparks Furnishings, a retailer in downtown Vancouver, WA, closed after 132 years in business. Marshall Rowe Sparks started it in 1882, seven years before Washington became a state.
Sbarro, purveyor of lukewarm, tasteless pizza slices available in food courts throughout the land, declared bankruptcy - again. Other bankruptcies included retail chains Coldwater Creek and Dots. GT Advanced Technologies - a maker of sapphire glass components for smartphones and fuel-cell maker ClearEdge Power also went bankrupt.
Air America, a very competent Clark County HVAC contractor (they had been our go-to service people for many years), went out of business this year. The Steakburger Drive-In and Golf-O-Rama miniature golf in Vancouver closed. Albertson's shuttered two supermarket locations in Vancouver. The MacPac of Portland - our favorite Apple store - closed down this year. Nordstrom is shuttering its Vancouver Mall store as well as the one at Lloyd Center in Portland. The company described the two stores as being "among its lowest performers."
Several retail shops, including Blue Castle Coffee and Bone's BBQ and Burger Bar, closed their doors this year in the nearly-deserted Battle Ground Village complex. Binder and Binder, one of the largest U.S. social security disability firms, filed for Chapter 11 this month.
• Everything Else: The November Congressional election was a solid rebuke to Barack Obama and his anti-business, Socialist policies. The Republicans now control both Houses of Congress, with a solid 54 seats in the Senate and 247 seats in the House of Representatives - the largest Republican House majority since World War II. This was no victory for the Republican Party. Rather, it was a defeat for the intrusive, failed extreme-left policies of the Obama administration. The Republicans are now merely on probation.
The Middle East continues to be a mess with ISIS terrorizing the region and other terrorists terrorizing everyone else. Sharply-dropping oil prices added a new element; if prices continue to drop, many nations dependent on oil revenue will be in a severe financial pinch. It is hard to imagine Vladimir Putin taking over any more countries when he can't make payroll for his army.
The Kardashians remain a national embarrassment but they're not alone. Arrested in Maine, a man posed for a mugshot while wearing a photo t-shirt of himself posing for a previous mugshot. 11% of Americans think HTML - a language used to create websites - is a sexually transmitted disease.
The Oxford Dictionary added the words 'side boob' and 'YOLO' to its index.
In 2014, millions of Americans made videos of themselves having ice water poured on their heads. Remember that fad? There were rumors that this had something to do with charity but, for me, the connection was never clear. In retrospect, it did as much social good as the Pepsi Challenge of 1975.
An almost-mint copy of Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman, has sold on eBay for $3,207,852, shattering the previous record price of $2.16 million set in 2011. The comic carried a print date of June, 1938 and a printed price of 10¢.
• The Good News: Many people, including myself, like to gripe and whine about this-and-that. But the fact is, that - for all its shortcomings - 2014 has been a very good year to be alive, compared with, say, 1349, when the Black Death killed between 75 million and 200 million people.
Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. Worldwide, people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. In that regard, we are living in a Golden Age, thanks to advances in technology. America's poor people now live better than royalty did a century ago.
On a personal note, without the technological miracles of modern medicine, I would not be alive in 2014. I feel truly blessed to be still around and able to write this year-end posting. The future looks good for me and all who have benefited from medical technology.
Finally, we've all seen how the media always reports on negative stories ('If it bleeds, it leads'); checking the headlines, you'd think that the world is going straight to Hell. Positive stories which show the best of mankind are often unreported or buried in an obscure location.
Let's end this year-end report with a tale of good people rising up to grant a little girl's wish: In the small town of Fountain Green, Utah - population just under 1,100 - hundreds of people crowded onto Main Street just before Christmas for Fountain Green's first Christmas light parade, organized especially for little Addie Fausett, who has a rare, terminal brain disease. This is likely her last Christmas.
Addie's final wish, to see a real light parade, was fulfilled by a town full of caring folks who spent months constructing home-made floats to just charm her little heart. God bless them and God bless Addie.
Happy New Year!
Monday December 29, 2014
A Reflective Gift: For Christmas, I gave my daughter a chrome diecast 1:43 scale model of a 1939 Delahaye 165 convertible.
One of only two examples built, this V-12 Delahaye, with swoopy coachwork by Figoni & Falaschi, was chosen by the French Government to represent France at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where it caused a sensation. The Delahaye 165 was derived from the famous Delahaye 145 racer and used a detuned form of the V12 racing engine.
The chrome finish further emphasizes the sleek nature ... (more >>>)
Want A Deal On A Cadillac? Buy a used one, since Cadillacs now depreciate faster than Lena Dunham gulping down donuts at a craft services table.
"Edmunds prices a 2013 Cadillac ATS made by General Motors Co. with a performance package and driven 12,000 miles at $27,000. That assumes the vehicle is in excellent shape. If the dealer has inspected the Cadillac and 'certified' it, which presumes it is in better than excellent shape, and it has a warranty, the price might rise to $30,000. A similar brand new model - a 2015 Cadillac 2015 with a performance package - retails for $42,000 to $50,000, depending on options. No wonder Cadillac has trouble selling new cars."
Cadillac has entered, or perhaps has been in for some time, the vicious end of the used car cycle. Too few people want its cars, compared to competing models, so even the value of its used cars are pressured downward. This has always been true, to some extent, for luxury vehicles in general but Cadillac's curve of depreciation is steeper these days.
Book Review: 'But Enough About You: Essays' by Christopher Buckley
This is a collection of essays written by the author over the last 20 or so years. All have been previously published, mostly in magazines. I had not read most of them, so this was a 'new' book for me.
Son of the legendary William F. Buckley, Christopher writes in the style of political humorists such as P.J. O'Rourke. But P.J. is funnier and more consistent. While I enjoyed some ... (more >>>)
Bah Humbug: One of the joys of post-Christmas is that I won't be hearing Mannheim Steamroller for the next 10 months. I hate overplayed, oversynthesized, overproduced elevator music.
MS sucks the life and soul out of Christmas music with a painful mixture of cheesy '70s mock-Moog synthesizer, ghastly electronic drums and an overused drama-queen sustain pedal. Do they pipe this dreck into the cells at Gitmo during the season? I bet they get a lot of confessions: "Make it stop - I tell you everything!"
Playing Mannheim Steamroller is a way of saying to folks, "Have a Meretricious Christmas and a Horrid New Year."
Question Of The Day is from Tom McMahon: "If Mormons drank coffee, would they be known as the Latte Day Saints?"
Wednesday December 24, 2014
A Christmas Prayer
May the Peace and Blessings
Monday December 22, 2014
Hard To Find: This 3.5-inch long toy racer, made by PAC, is a reproduction of an early-postwar Tootsietoy model, often described as a 1947 Offenhauser racer.
It is a simple rendering of the Offy-powered sprint cars of the era, perhaps a '47 Kurtis Kraft Midget, many of which were powered a 3-liter, double-overhead cam Offenhauser engine.
Precision Accucast (PAC) was a company founded by Michael Weston. It produced small quantities of reproductions of early Tootsietoy cars, trucks and even produced a K4 Pacific steam locomotive. These toys were made by ... (more >>>)
Rollover: On Saturday night, coming back from downtown Vancouver, my Lexus' odometer finally rolled past the 25,000 mile mark - over 7 years after I purchased the car.
Goin' South: Last week, Ford Motor produced the last car at its plant in Genk, Belgium, closing the factory which produced some 14 million vehicles over the past 50 years. Production is being relocated to lower-cost Spain.
The closure of the plant will cost some 11,800 jobs in the greater region, as suppliers to Ford also have to make cuts.
Now that Ford and Opel are gone, Belgium has just has two vehicle assembly plants: Audi in Brussels and Volvo in Ghent. And few people are buying Volvos these days, I'm told.
Middle Kingdom Luxury: Chinese buyers of luxury vehicles are, on average, male and 33.5 years of age, with an average annual household income of $175,000, according to a survey of 800 premium brand car customers in China carried out by the Hurun Research Institute.
Overall, the findings showed that luxury car owners in China are highly educated too and some 10% had spent at least three years overseas. Mercedes-Benz owners had the highest income, Infiniti owners the lowest; BMW owners had the highest percentage of female owners, while Cadillac had the highest percentage of male owners. Volvo owners had the highest education levels; Land Rover owners had the lowest. Audi owners had the most government officials, while Land Rover had the most entrepreneurs.
China today has 1.1 million individuals with a personal wealth of $17 million or more. Beijing, Guangdong and Shanghai are the cities with the highest number of millionaires.
Mercedes Benz owners were considered to be entrepreneurs, cultivated, and successful. BMW owners considered themselves to be small and medium-sized business owners or senior management of multinationals with a positive attitude to life.
Land Rover owners were considered to be nouveau riche, young second generation and show-offs. Volvo owners were considered to be valuable members of society, low-key, behaving in a morally upstanding manner, family-oriented. Audi owners were considered to be government officials, mature and with experience. Cadillac owners had the image of being white collar workers, mature and successful, many were senior management of multinationals.
Headline Of The Week ... so far is from The Rumsford Meteor: 'Parishioner Who Only Attends Mass On Christmas And Easter Desperately Trying To Remember What The Hell The Stations Of Lacrosse Are'.
RIP: Gravely-voiced singer Joe Cocker has died at age 70 from lung cancer. The guy looked like he was 70 twenty years ago and always seemed to have a touch of the St. Vitus Dance.
The English-born singer song-writer had a career lasting more than 40 years with hits including cover of the Beatles' 'With A Little Help From My Friends', 'You Are So Beautiful' and 'Up Where We Belong'.
The best Joe Cocker performance ever was the one by John Belushi on SNL in 1976.
"I'm So Ronery!" North Korea's entire internet went down today, so lonely people are unable to connect using Facebook or eHarmony. The outage is said to affect both computers in the country.
Maybe this was an evil retaliation by the U.S. over the recent unpleasantness at Sony. Or maybe it was just Comcast acting its usual self.
Whoever did this also took North Korea's only electric light - a small table lamp. It reportedly had a cream-colored, sculpted Art Deco ceramic body with a mermaid painted on it and a yellowish-colored shade with maroon fringe at the base. Purchased at a Woolworth store in the 1940s, the lamp was highly prized by the North Koreans and was sometimes displayed on its own float in parades.
The rogue nation is completely now completely dark except for two small Coleman single-mantle kerosene camping lanterns. (permalink)
No Security Here: Binder and Binder, one of the largest Social Security disability firms in the United States - which used to advertise endlessly on Fox News, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Founded by brothers Harry and Charles Binder in 1975, the firm represented people seeking disability benefits from the government. There has been a shrinking demand for its services as government scrutiny of disability claims tightened.
A number of the judges who paid high amounts of benefits in recent years have either been placed on leave or left the agency and the agency has also tightened its controls.
Holiday Fact: The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
Friday December 19, 2014
But Can It Make The Leap When The Bridge Is Out? Burt Reynolds' 'Smokey and the Bandit' 1977 Pontiac Trans Am has been sold at auction for $450,000. This car never appeared in the film itself, making it as authentic as Dolly Parton's bosom.
This particular Pontiac "was used to promote the film and was given to Reynolds afterward with his name on the title as proof of ownership. The Trans Am looks practically identical to the one in the movie with black paint, the gold firebird on the hood and Bandit name on the driver's door. This one packs a 400-cubic-inch V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor under the hood, an automatic transmission and a plaque inside the door that proclaims: '1977 Pontiac Trans Am Owned By Burt Reynolds'."
I hope the new owner wasn't expecting a fast car. In 2006, MotorWeek did a 25th Anniversary show and pointed out that the 2005 Kia Spectra recorded a better quarter-mile time than the '83 Pontiac Trans Am. A low-flush toilet probably has more pulling power.
Also, do you still have to worry about Trans Fat if you drive a Trans Am?
Tiny Tucker: The AACA Museum in Hershey, PA is offering 1:43 models of the 1948 Tucker Torpedo, priced at $139.99 each.
The Brooklin models are hand cast in white metal at a small industrial park in Bath England. I visited the factory in 1990. I used to have a Brooklin Tucker but sold it when I purchased some less expensive and more accurate 1:43 scale diecast renditions by Dinky, Matchbox, Solido and Yat-Ming. You can still buy a Yat-Ming 1:43 scale Tucker for under $10 and it's a more accurate-looking reproduction than the Brooklin model which has a certain blobbiness to it.
In the early days, the company was based in Brooklin, Ontario, Canada (hence the name), but relocated to England in 1979. Brooklin specializes in American cars, although its Lansdowne line of models specializes in European and British models.
Each model is crafted ... (more >>>)
Who Knew? James Lileks has noted that Studebaker Weasels helped win World War II.
Home for Christmas: Our Christmas tree is now decorated and lit. The tree adds much needed brightness and cheer to the dark, rainy days typical of Pacific Northwest winters. Looking at the tree and its ornaments brings back memories of Christmases from long ago.
Which brings me to that old song, 'I'll Be Home For Christmas'. This ballad was first recorded ... (more >>>)
Cuba Libre: Regarding Barack Obama's decision this week to open formal relations with Cuba (which will result in full diplomatic relations and the establishment of our embassy in Havana), Charles Krauthammer asked, "Is there no tyrant or anti-American center in the world that Obama will not appease for nothing in return? If you get something in return I'd be willing to listen. I haven't seen anything."
Senator Ted Cruz, whose father Rafael Cruz escaped Castro's Cuba in 1957 after beatings and torture said, "The Castro brothers are allies of North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. Cuba is an avowed enemy of this country. They are a leading state sponsor of terrorism."
Of course, the tourism industry is jumping all over this so, if you've always wanted to stay at a dumpy old hotel and watch decrepit 60 year-old Buicks dodging donkey carts in the streets, start packing. Your Yankee dollars are welcome, amigo.
Who will our President appease next? Iran? ISIS? The Taliban?
Are There Any 'Good' Taliban? I doubt it. Why would the Taliban arbitrarily kill 145 innocent people, 132 of them children? As well as a 28-year-old office assistant who was shot and burned alive during the Peshawar massacre? To satisfy their inbred hatred and ideological blood-thirst.
Shibes Meadow wrote: "Anyone here ever been to Pakistan? I have. 'Shithole' doesn't even scratch the surface. That place is beyond shithole, far in excess of any shithole the Western, Christian mind can conceive. ... I am a Catholic, and I believe in Jesus, but I have to tell you in all honesty that if by some miracle every Muslim on the planet dropped suddenly dead I wouldn't feel a thing, and that's wrong, but it's honestly how I feel. I wish I didn't, but I do. I'd like for one day to go by, just one day, without having to think about those lunatics and wonder what nightmare they're cooking up next."
Fellow Catholic Kathy Shaidle has often written that "we should have nuked Afghanistan no later than 2:00 pm EST on September 11, 2001."
I realize that this screed doesn't fit with the spirit of peace and love everyone expects at Christmas. But neither does the slaughter of 132 kids by sub-human fanatics.
Fact Of The Day: Every year, there are 11.73 million 'replica' watches sold worldwide. I have received a spam e-mail ad for every single one of them. (permalink)
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Obama Spends Afternoon In Garage Restoring Classic Drone'.
Sadly, there's no ring of truth to this parody headline - not even a whisper. Or whimper. With no backyard handyman father figure in his life, I don't think Barack Obama has ever held a wrench in his hands during his entire existence. And that's part of his problem. He's never lived the life of most Americans.
Obama owning a toolbox is less likely than a group of Aussies ordering a Bloomin' Onion at an Outback Steakhouse in Missoula, Montana.
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "I didn't get a toy train for Christmas like the other kids, I got a toy subway instead; you couldn't see anything but every now and then you'd hear this rumbling noise go by."
Wednesday December 17, 2014
The View From A Millennial Moron: Recently, Melody Lee, 'Director of Brand and Reputation Strategy' for General Motors' Cadillac luxury brand and a self-described millennial, had some bizarrely interesting things to say about the move to NYC, about the brand, and about herself.
Thus spake Melody, "I don't buy products, I buy brands. I don't use Apple computers because they are the best computers, I use them because Apple is cool. We need to show drivers what the Cadillac lifestyle is all about. ... We want to be a global luxury brand that happens to sell cars. We don't want to be an automotive brand."
Devices that became cool did so because had something to offer - quality, reliability, style. Or all three. And a goal - this is how BMW lifted itself from a maker of Isetta bubble cars to a top luxury brand.
TTAC commenter readallover wrote, "One of the reasons Apple is so beloved is because it was compared to Microsoft. MS product routinely were released with consumers as the beta testers. Compared to MS, Apple stuff worked right the first time and was intuitive to start with. Cadillac is Microsoft: over-promise and under-deliver. Lexus is Apple. If she wants Caddy to be the new Apple she needs to start at the dealer level the 'experience' at the dealer level is on par with any used car lot. She may think she is selling only the image, but way more people care about the product."
Think about it: Everything that trades on 'perception' began as a novel and excellent product.
As to the 'Cadillac lifestyle', please wake me when Caddy figures out what that is these days. Sixty years ago, Cadillac ... (more >>>)
Speaking of Cadillac ... the brand's Fleetwood 75 models were a series of long-wheelbase, limousine-style models manufactured from the mid-1930s to 1987. I have a 1:43 scale 1958 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 limousine in navy blue made in 1996 by ... (more >>>)
You May Not Know Her Name ... but you've heard her voice: Session singer Millie Kirkham has died at age 91.
She sang backup soprano vocals on Ferlin Husky's 'Gone', Elvis' 'Blue Christmas', Brenda Lee's 'I'm Sorry', Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman' and more. RIP.
Book Review: 'The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan' by Rick Perlstein
This is a sad and dreary chronicle of the 1970s. In this downer of a book, the author paints the era as if it were America's Hell Decade. I lived in the 1970s; it wasn't all that bad. Yes, there was Watergate and the Downfall of Nixon but we had a successful transfer of a regime without military troops or gunfire. Gas rationing in 1974 sucked but then, so did disco music. And Nixon's price-controls. And Carter's malaise speech. The economy was lackluster but there was no wholesale closing of businesses.
The big-bumpered cars of the mid-1970s were mostly ugly and the primitive pollution controls made them run horribly, especially when started cold. I spent many a chilly morning, sitting in a rented Dodge or Mercury with ice-cold vinyl seats, waiting for the engine to warm up enough that I could make a left exit from a Ramada Inn without stalling and getting killed by an oncoming delivery truck. Or a Plymouth Fury police car.
But, aside from all that, things were pretty good in those bad old days. I kept my job and so did almost all my friends. People were still dining out; it was often tough to get a table on weekends. The stock market was pretty flat during the decade but no one was jumping out of windows. And the Bee Gees did pretty well.
I soon grew weary of reading... (more >>>)
Headline Of The Week ... so far is from The People's Cube: 'CIA responds to Democrat calls for transparency by releasing the director's cut of The Making Of Obama's Birth Certificate'. Runner-up is from the same source: 'Obama signs executive order renaming looters to undocumented shoppers'.
Bad Pun Of The Day: One of Santa's helpers was sent to a therapist because he seemed depressed. Diagnosis: Low Elf Esteem.
Monday December 15, 2014
Just In Time For Christmas: The three-wheeled 2015 Polaris Slingshot is a big, heavy, steroid-loaded update to the three-wheel Morgans of yore and the low-slung machine will probably fit under your Christmas tree if it's tall enough and you trim some of the lower branches.
Dan Neil tested it and was wondering about its reason for being: "I was meditating on what sort of people would buy the Polaris Slingshot SL, a three-wheel cry for help from the power-sports toy factory in Medina, Minn. .... What unites these consumers, I've concluded, is their anarchic disregard for $24,000. Beyond that, motives vary, as they must in the purchase of anything with rubber seats."
Actually, Dan, I suspect that the purpose of the Slingshot is to give Polaris dealers something to sell during the off-season for snowmobiles.
Is it safe? Mr. Neil wrote, "This machine has no air bags and a chrome-moly frame that, while surely well made and properly engineered, would fold like chicken wire in a proper pickup-to-Slingshot SL collision. They would never get you out of the thing. You would have to be buried in it."
Ever wonder what happens to the tooling for failed General Motors products? Well ... (more >>>)
Milestone: A year after the 27 millionth Ford made the trek from San Francisco to the NY World's Fair and back, the 28 millionth Ford sedan appeared at the Fair as part of its 'International Good Will Tour'.
International? It probably went to ... (more >>>)
Train Update: Due to my current health situation, I lacked the strength/stamina to put up the usual train layout this year. Instead I put up three loops of track on the living room floor by the Christmas tree.
Everything is now working: the big outer loop is ... (more >>>)
Grinding Old Bones: Daniel Hannan, author of 'Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World', wrote about 14th Century theologian John Wycliffe, whose writings inspired part of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Wycliffe, a Catholic priest, opposed the selling of indulgences and other Catholic practices. He was one of the earliest opponents of papal authority over secular power. Wycliffe insisted that holiness an individual was more important than official office; that is, a truly pious person was morally superior to a wicked ordained cleric. The Church hierarchy was not pleased ... (more >>>)
Bridge Update: Last week, I wrote about the big fir tree that fell on the bridge behind our house during a major windstorm.
So, how did the Cedars Golf Course 'repair' its bridge? Find out here (with photo documentation). You'll be shocked.
Crafting Dough: Recently, I was reading an ad supplement in the newspaper. It seemed like every product featured was described as "artisan." This term used to be a noun, meaning a skilled craftsperson. Then it became an adjective, referring to something produced by a skilled craftsperson in very small batches.
One would think, therefore, that producing Artisan Bread would involve some kind of skilled craft tools. A jeweler's loupe? Chisel? Glassblower's tongs? Nope. According to artisanbakers.com, "An artisan baker is a craftsperson who is trained to the highest ability to mix, ferment, shape and bake a hand crafted loaf of bread. They understand the science behind the chemical reactions of the ingredients and know how to provide the best environment for the bread to develop." Aha! So, all non-artisan bread is Sloppily-made Bread. Thanks, artisanbakers, for the enlightenment. (For lunch, I'll think I'll have roast beef on Careless Jewish Rye.)
7-11 offers sandwiches made with Artisan Bread. I immediately pictured ... (more >>>)
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.
Friday December 12, 2014
Christmas Treat: The 1947 Sears Christmas catalog offered this Steelcraft pedal car, loosely based on the 1941 Chrysler:
Sears sold the same model for $15.72 in 1946 although the '46 model had a working horn. I can personally confirm that it was a great little pedal car ... (more >>>)
Crapmobile: Over at TTAC, Derek Kreindler has cast aspersions on the Mercedes G-Wagen - an ugly machine I've always believed was 'styled' using empty Cheerios boxes and a stapler.
He noted that "Mercedes has been coasting on the success of the G-Wagen SUV, which, in a world of antiquated designs wrapped in high-dollar vestments and sold at outrageous markups, is the zenith of this formula: a 30+ year-old military truck built for the Shah of Iran, flocked in faux-Chanel handbag upholstery and sold to the consorts of the one percent as this season's must-have mode of transportation.
The one and only time I have driven a G-Wagen was when I babysat the owner of a G63 AMG, a friend-of-a-friend who makes bi-monthly appearances at rehab facilities. We had stayed out far too late or should I say, I stayed out far too late for somebody who hadn't ingested cardiotoxic quantities of stimulants, and it was up to me to get my friend, and the G-Wagen home safely.
I drove the short distance back to his home, marveling at what a wretched nugget of dogshit the G-Wagen was. It was dynamically reprehensible: every application of the brakes, throttle or steering resulted in some kind of reciprocal pitching or yawing. Even though it packed a twin-turbo AMG V8 under the hood, there was no way you could ever use any of the power."
Of course, you could affix a three-pointed star to a huge stinking pile of manure and some people would still buy it. Put fancy and meretricious rims on it and wealthy rap singers will battle one another to get one - just so they can hear the envious refrain as they cruise through the ghetto, "Man, that is some shit!"
Driving Free: Doug Flint has written about the profound positive influence of the automobile on society. "Think of the power and mobility millions of people have that never existed before in mankind's history and does not exist anywhere else. In 24 hours' time you can move a thousand miles in any direction. You don't have to ask anyone's permission, fill out any papers, or buy a ticket. Show me someone who got caught in a hurricane and I'll show you someone who didn't own a car."
Doug also pointed out that "no matter how much you spend buying a car, it really won't do much more than a used clunker purchased for $2,500. How egalitarian can you get?"
Remembering Aunt Ceil: My godmother and favorite aunt died 60 years ago 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 Aunt Ceil ... (more >>>)
Good News ... on the cancer front: On Monday, I went to a day surgery center in Portland and received an internal examination. The doctor found no visible signs of cancer and biopsies came back negative.
On Thursday, I met with my oncologist to get recent blood test results. In short, the cancer marker 'result' is zero. Great news. I go back for more blood work in three months.
Later, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden - a few blocks away from the clinic - to celebrate. Donna, the front of house manager, bought us lunch! She said she was sympathetic to cancer patients because her dad died of the disease. A wonderful and unexpected gesture on her part. Thanks, Donna - and it was a swell lunch, too.
I've always liked the vibe at this east Vancouver Olive Garden (164th and Mill Plain Blvd.) and have written about it here. And, yes, Joe was our waiter this time around.
What a great day - no cancer plus a free meal!
Big Storm: During Thursday's windstorm (wind gusts of almost 60 mph), we lost power from 5:30 pm until 2:00 am Friday, along with 62,698 other homes in Clark County, WA. The winds were driven by a low pressure system that developed over the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Weather Service. The Portland-metro area, Oregon Coast, Western Washington state and Central Oregon all experienced high winds.
A giant fir tree on the Cedars Golf Course - just behind our house - fell on the metal bridge spanning the Salmon Creek, seriously damaging the bridge structure. Except for lots of tree debris on our lawn and driveway, we suffered no damage, thankfully.
Bad Investments: In a year when the S&P 500 is up over 13%, the Nysa Fund is the worst performing mutual fund of 2014, down 41% so far this year. "The fund received just one out of five stars from Morningstar, the worst rating for past performance awarded."
As for individual stocks, one of the year's big losers is Amedica, a manufacturer of silicon nitride orthopedic and spinal implants. Shares have fallen by more than 90%. "With a book value of just under $12 million and nearly $5 million in losses in the last quarter, Amedica is quite small and quite risky." By comparison, many health care mutual funds are up about 30% so far in 2014.
Regarding fiat money, this was not a good year to bet against the dollar which ... (more >>>)
Headline Of The Week ... is from The Rumsford Meteor: 'Gay Couples Now Considering Just Shacking Up And Having Illegitimate Kids To Prove They're Equal With Heterosexuals'.
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.
Wednesday December 10, 2014
We Build Excitement! That used to be the slogan for Pontiac. Over the years, General Motors built millions of them ... (more >>>)
Korean Invasion: Hyundai Motor Group expects to finish calendar year 2014 having sold of eight million Hyundai and Kia vehicles worldwide.
According to Bloomberg, the key to Hyundai's growth is beating original sales expectations in Brazil, China and India. Strong sales of crossover vehicles are also helping.
It Took 100 Years ... but Maserati has just produced its 50,000 vehicle at its plant in Grugliasco, Italy.
The landmark 50,000th vehicle was a 2015 Quattroporte S Q4 in dark grey with a red and black interior, bound for the US market that's reaching new sales records for the automaker. Maserati was established on December 1, 1914, in Bologna.
How To Lose Jobs In One Easy Lesson: Seattle, Washington, one of the strongest bastions of lefty philosophy, passed a phased-in $15 minimum wage law earlier this year. The council vote was unanimous and a throng of clueless morons outside cheered, but for many this will soon become a reversal of fortune.
In response to Seattle's coming $15 minimum wage - the highest in the U.S., Kathrina Tugadi, owner of Seattle's El Norte Lounge - a bar/restaurant in North Seattle featuring Mexican dishes, no longer hires musicians for her restaurant, she said she can't justify expenses that don't directly "add to the bottom line." And, she says, hours will have to be cut: El Norte Lounge stopped serving lunch and only serves dinner now. She's also removed labor-intensive menu items and adjusted prices in preparation for the wage hike.
"I am concerned about my business and others in the community, but it isn't just about any one business. It's about how the entire economic community," she said. "El Norte may be unable to remain open once the ordinance is fully in effect." Even Pagliacci Pizza, a Seattle-area pizza chain, is moving its call center and some of its production facilities outside the city. Bye-bye Seattle jobs.
Back in the mid-1980s ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World' by Daniel Hannan
This book is an ambitious and comprehensive account of the origin and growth of the basic principles of freedom enjoyed by English-speaking countries. Freedom and individual rights grew as a result of a series of landmark documents, from the Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution.
English-speaking peoples created and maintained democratic government: freedom of speech, government by consent of the people and basic right of private property.
Author, blogger and British member of the European Parliament, Mr. Hannan believes that Continental Europeans have never valued representative government ... (more >>>)
Where Is Phil Hartman When We Need Him? David Burge (Iowahawk) channeled Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber: "I'm just a simple unfrozen caveman health care architect. Your modern ways frighten and confuse me."
Bad Pun Of The Day: Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
Monday December 8, 2014
Big Bucks For A Smallish Car: The 450 horsepower BMW M4 convertible accelerates to 60 mph in an astounding 4.3 seconds. It also costs over $88,000 and, according to Dan Neil, depreciates faster than a falling boulder.
"I certainly don't mean to compare the residual value of high-performance, low-volume Germany factory tuners - your Audi RS 4s, your Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMGs, Porsche Cayenne Turbos and the M4s - with the Hindenburg, because that would be tasteless. Another exploding gas ball plunging out the sky, yes, of course, fair play. But not the Hindenburg."
The M4 has got a retractable metal top, too: "It was nigh about 40 degrees and gray when I struck the M4's three-piece retractable aluminum hardtop - itself a delightful, nearly silent enterprise of magical self-folding and then, poof, it's gone. I also rolled down all the windows because if you don't, I hate to be the one to inform you, people think you are retired."
So, how do you keep warm, you ask? The exclusive Bimmer 'neck warmer' system. "You can tell a German named it. So very on point. This system breathes warm air out of vents built into the front seats and down the occupants' collars in a way that I found a little pushy, frankly. Mr. BMW! We just met. What about your lease manager?"
Sounds like a nice car, if you've got the money and can handle the steep depreciation and high maintenance costs when It gets out of warranty. Good luck.
Looking Good: I took a photo of my wife's 2005 Toyota Avalon a few weeks ago when ... (more >>>)
Speaking Of Personal Vehicles ... I took delivery of my 2008 Lexus LS 460 almost exactly seven years ago.
Because I have retired and no longer use the car for business travel and because I've been sick and staying home more lately, the car doesn't get much use. The odometer now shows .... (more >>>)
Plastic Fantasies: The Dimestore Dreams line of molded plastic vehicles was created by collector and toy car enthusiast, Bill Hanlon.
The vehicles are reminiscent of those available from five-and-dime stores in the early postwar years, when the then-new plastics injection molding industry offered toy models which were inexpensive, fairly sturdy (the color was molded in, not painted on) and price-competitive with traditional diecast and pressed tin models.
Some early plastic toy pioneers ... (more >>>)
Just In Time For Christmas: The World's Simplest Electric Train can be seen in operation here.
Tepid Recovery: The commercial office real estate market in Southwest Washington is slowly improving.
The overall vacancy rate for top-tier class A and B office properties has dropped to 16% or less, from a high point of about 21% a few years ago, according to Adam Roselli, commercial broker at Eric Fuller & Associates.
But that's still a high number. Furthermore ... (more >>>)
Headline Of The Week ... so far is from The Onion: 'KFC, Midas Team Up For Much-Anticipated Crossover Meal'.
Stating the new product brings together the best that two of America's most trusted brands have to offer, fast food giant KFC and automotive service chain Midas introduced their long-awaited crossover meal, the Road Bucket, this week.
"Our bold new Road Bucket is exactly what KFC and Midas fans have been waiting for, with 10 pieces of chicken, your choice of two sides, and four biscuits served on a corrosion-resistant aluminized steel muffler, all for the special low price of $19.99," said KFC marketing director Mike Wesley.
Quote of the Day is from Victor Borge: "Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year."
Thursday December 4, 2014
November Auto Sales: This was another strong month for vehicle sales - the second month with 17 million Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate this year - and the seventh consecutive month with a sales rate over 16 million.
Light vehicle sales were at a 17.1 million SAAR in November - up 5.5% from November 2013, and up 4.5% from the 16.4 million annual sales rate last month.
Chrysler Group led major automakers in posting robust November sales, setting the pace for what is forecast to be a stellar month for the industry. Chrysler gained 20%, mostly due to Ram truck (up 31%) and Jeep sales (+27%).
General Motors rebounded from a soft October, posting total November sales of 225,818 vehicles, a rise of 7% compared with November 2013. Total Chevrolet deliveries in November were up 3% year-over-year. The Chevy Cruze posted a sales gain of 26% in November. Chevy Silverado pickup sales rose 25%. Buick sold 19,143 vehicles in November - a gain of 27%.
GM's new SUVs and pickups continue to be big hits, and GM claimed its average transaction price in November was the highest ever at $35,600. GMC Sierra pickups sold 22,544 units in November, up 57% year-over-year, and total Sierra sales year-to-date are up 13.1%. GMC brand sales rose 27% last month.
Toyota and the VW brand each increased 3%. Subaru sales jumped 24% to 45,273 vehicles. Honda sales were up 5%; Acura rose 2%.
Scion sales, on the other hand, plunged 21%. Land Rover (-21%), Cadillac (-19% - outsold by Acura, no less), Smart (-15% to 815 units), Infiniti (-13%), Volvo (-14%) and Jaguar (-13%) all posted double-digit losses, as well.
Ford posted a U.S. sales decline in November of 2% to 187,000 Ford and Lincoln vehicles, compared with November 2013 sales of 190,449. Sales of the company's best-selling Escape compact SUV rose 22% year-over-year and sales of the Lincoln brand rose 21% to 8,113 units. The full-size Explorer SUV saw sales rise by 13% year-over-year.
Sales of the F-Series pickups slipped another 10% in November as buyers await the all-new aluminum-bodied F-Series due out by the end of this year. The bright spot for Ford's car sales was the all-new 2015 Mustang, which saw sales jump 62.4% to 8,728 autos - about double the number of Camaro ponycars sold last month.
As for premium brands, Mercedes-Benz claimed a broad victory in November but trails BMW by 1,830 sales heading into 2014's final month. Lexus, the third-ranked premium automaker, showed a sales increase of 7% with 27,472 vehicles finding buyers. Audi sales gained 22% to 16,650 units.
Large incentives no doubt helped General Motors ($3,505 per vehicle) and Ford Motor ($3,046), according to Edmunds.com. Chrysler's deals were a little lower ($2,928) and significantly leaner discounts were offered by Nissan ($2,125), Toyota ($1,664) and Honda ($1,097 per vehicle).
Superfail: Spyker Cars, a Dutch maker of supercars, has filed for bankruptcy.
The automaker set up shop in 1999 to make high-end luxury sports cars. In 2006, however, it bit off what proved to be more than it could chew when it took over what had been the Jordan Grand Prix team, subsequently selling it to Force India.
That failed venture didn't prevent it from the über-ambitious step of taking over Saab from General Motors in 2010. That didn't work out so well and the company has floundered ever since.
Resurrecting Old Memories: One of the toys I remember from when I was four years old or so, was a Tootsietoy model of a Buick. I found out later that it was a somewhat crude interpretation of the 1938 Buick Y-Job, General Motors' first show car.
In 1981, I found an example at ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Economics: The User's Guide' by Ha-Joon Chang
They say that economics is the Dismal Science. It has also been called the Boring Science. I believe it; I began losing interest about halfway through this book.
Cambridge economist Chang has tried ... (more >>>)
Cutting Wit: James Lileks weighed in on the old razor blades of yore. Yore being pre-1980, as I recollect. An old razor blade had a finite life: "When it was dull, you threw it away. There are untold millions in the landfill. If ever there's an explosion, the rain will hurt."
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.
Tuesday December 2, 2014
High End Growth: Of the fastest-growing automotive models in 2014, the list is dominated by pricey vehicles, such as Chevy Corvette (up 146% over last year), Lexus GX460 (+109%), Mercedes S-Class (+105%), GMC Yukon (+54%) and Cadillac Escalade (+51%).
Somebody's got money out there.
Coupe This: Four-door coupes are still big sellers, even though the rear seat area only has headroom for small children, dachshunds and midget corpses with broken necks.
I would remind people who think these vehicles are trendy, that the this style ... (more >>>)
Remember When Olds Was Hot? In 1962, GM was selling them as fast as they could make 'em. Sales peaked in 1985 at 1.2 million cars per year. Sadly ... (more >>>)
Poor Sellers: The four least-popular Amazon.com Black Friday Deals (in Toys & Games):
Bad Pun of the Day: Sign at a nudist camp: 'Sorry - Clothed for Winter'.
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