A Blog About Cars ... And More
Friday December 30, 2016
Year-End Summary: 2016 is just about over and it was a pretty good one as years go. Let's hope that 2017 is even better.
There is much to celebrate these days.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday December 28, 2016
Gitcha The Looks: In my lifetime, I've only seen one of them; it was parked on a downtown Portland street in the 1980s. I thought it was cool-looking. It was sold by Ron Tonkin. "Natch," you'd say if you lived in Oregon.
Tonkin, the ubiquitous and annoying car hawker seen endlessly on local television stations, would sell almost anything. He was, at various times, a dealer for Edsels, Ferrari, DeLoreans, Yugos and electric bicycles. Ron Tonkin, who died in 2014, became the youngest Chevy dealer in America at age 29 in 1960. (Earlier this month, the entire group of 21 Ron Tonkin dealerships were sold to Spokane-based Gee Automotive Companies. Tonkin had revenues in the $700-800 million range and employed nearly 1,000 workers.)
Back to that only-seen-once car: The Zimmer Quicksilver was based on the Pontiac Fiero but looked nothing like one. Jack Baruth reviewed a 28 year-old example recently in Road & Track.
Interestingly, the car still turns heads. "Not once in fourteen total fuel stops did a bystander correctly identify the car. But neither did I ever hear a negative comment. The Zimmer generates affection out of thin air."
An elderly man in Amarillo called it ... (more >>>)
I Hope You Got What You Wanted For Christmas: I did. I received many gifts. The gift of feeling good. Some nice model cars - I'll post pictures and descriptions of them in the coming weeks. Some good bottles of wine. And, most of all, the opportunity to be with family.
Book Review: 'The Field Of Flight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies' by Lt. General Michael T. Flynn and Michael Ledeen
Less a memoir or autobiography, this book is a more of a call to action. It contains a multi-point plan to win the War on Terror. Lt. General Michael T. Flynn spent more than 33 years in Army intelligence and knows his subject. His forced retirement was because he refused to pretty-up the truth about terrorist threats and the safety of Americans. He has been selected as National Security Advisor for the Trump Administration. In this 208 page book, Flynn succinctly explains our failure to stop terrorism and recommends what must be done to fight and win to war on terror.
Flynn is critical of both political parties ... (more >>>)
Working On The Railroad: Last week, I switched out two train consists on my O-gauge train layout. On the middle level, I swapped out the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric locomotive pulling a set of silver Congressional Limited cars for the PRR Aerotrain.
Best Inauguration Ever: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Rockettes have agreed to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration ceremony. "America's Got Talent" star Jackie Evancho will be singing the national anthem at the ceremony.
This will be the first presidential inauguration with a kick line!
The 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform at the inaugural ceremony during Trump's swearing-in. It previously performed at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush.
Farewell, Princess: Carrie Fisher, who gained international fame as the beloved and feisty Princess Leia in 'Star Wars', has died at age 60 from a massive heart attack.
She was the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. In addition to acting, the petite (5' 1") Carrie was an author and screenwriter. Following a difficult childhood, she struggled with bipolar disorder and drug abuse. RIP.
Today, while making plans for her daughter's funeral, Debbie Reynolds suffered a fatal stroke. She was 84. I'll always remember her wonderful performance in 'Singin' In The Rain'. RIP to both.
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."
Inconsistent Dough: There's toast and there's Texas toast. There are English Muffins ... but no Texas Muffins. What's up with that?
Quote Of The Day is from Will Rogers: "Lord, the money we do spend on government and it's not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago."
Sunday December 25, 2016
I'll Be Home for Christmas: As I grow older, I find that various ornaments on our Christmas tree bring back pleasant memories. Each one has a story to tell.
The oldest decoration is an injection molded, ivory-colored, translucent polystyrene cathedral. Mass-produced shortly after World War II, it was probably a dime-store purchase by my mom. The little cathedral has a large rounded slot on the bottom so that it can fit over a tree light and be backlit.
The church itself is a generic design, adapting elements of the great cathedrals of Cologne, Notre Dame, Truro and Washington's National Cathedral. At age 65, it remains in fine shape - aging gracefully - and has been accorded a place of honor on our tree.
Just looking at the little plastic church evokes pleasant memories of my long-gone childhood. Which brings me to that old song ... (more >>>)
Thursday December 22, 2016
Top Speed - 31 MPH; Cost - $250,000: Sounds like a safety car designed by the government, doesn't it? But, it's not. It's the Case IH Optum 270 CVX tractor and Dan Neil inexplicably - what, he ran out of cars to test?!? - reviewed it recently. His report has overtones of the Road & Track April Fool's Issue where they road-tested locomotives, blimps and such.
Dan noted that the Optimum line "was named Tractor of the Year by a panel of farm-implement journalists from publications such as 'Traction' and 'Irish Farmers Monthly'. One does not gainsay such a jury."
"Case IH’s new Optum 4x4 tractor is in many respects a European luxury good. Fully compliant with EU agricultural noise and emissions restrictions, the Optum is a whispering, smokeless giant, with automated systems controlling tractor and attached implements (baler, seeder, disc cultivator, etc.); precise automated guidance and row-following down to the centimeter; and Swiss Army knife-versatility, with two- and four-speed power-takeoffs (PTOs) in front and rear, and an array of power hydraulics to run buckets and such." He compared it to a high-end SUV, noting that the manufacturer targets "gentlemen farmers." Does Ralph Lauren offer a line of bib overalls?
How does it perform? "The mighty tires whirl, beating on the dirt road like it’s a dusty carpet. Oh, gosh! Oh gosh! Noticing my widening eyes, Mr. Silber reaches over and sets the speed at 25 kmh, or 15.5 mph; but even then, in the 12-ton machine, the initial sensation of runaway kinetic energy makes all the liquids want to leave your body."
And: "I push the controller forward, and the rpms stir to a silky, husky 800. With very slight effort I crank the steering wheel over to full-lock. The 2.3-foot wide agro tires swiftly swivel to the right, and the monster machine seems to reach back as if to bite its own tail, shuddering a bit, its power-steering hydraulics chirring."
It's a lot more tractor - and a lot more expensive - than the Ferguson I used to drive 55 years ago.
It's nice to be appreciated.
Ill Wind: The city of Port Angeles, Washington spent $107,516 putting up wind turbines in a new city park. The turbines will power 31 lights in the park. "This will save the taxpayers of Port Angeles a whopping $41.58 per month. At that rate, it will take 216 years for it to pay off (at zero interest rate)."
"The ridiculous benefit-cost ratio is unimportant, says one city councilor, because the purpose of the turbines wasn't to generate electricity, it was "to educate folks about wind power." Pretty expensive education, eh?
Merry Moonbat Christmas: Former neighbors, who are very liberal and cause-oriented, just sent us their 2016 Holiday Newsletter. We always look forward to its arrival because it's like getting a missive from another planet. One year, instead of 'Happy Holidays!', the letter closed with 'Boycott Texaco!' Naturally, they live in the land I call The People's Republik of Portland.
During the George W. Bush years, we received a newsletter, noting that one spouse spent "a lot of time on the computer communicating with legislators and groups on peace issues, environmental concerns and political dilemmas exacerbated by the current administration whose decisions and behavior we find obnoxious and unethical in a thousand ways. Happy Holidays!"
In 2007, they wrote, "we grieve for the loss of a good friend who inspired us to 'act locally and think globally'. Some of his last words were, 'Vote Obama'." Yeah, well Obama might have won that election - as well as the next one - but I remained a reasonably happy guy. I have a pretty good life and hang around with people I enjoy. Now that it's 2016, Obama's on his way out and can't do much more harm. And the 'act locally and think globally' guy's still dead. And probably spinning in his grave at 6,000 rpm at the notion of a Donald Trump presidency.
This liberal couple are now in their late 70s and have calmed down a bit. Their 2016 missive contained this sentence: "Like so many people, we were shocked and depressed after the election." They comfort themselves by spending time with their grandchild, "playing the Save The Whales game" - the same one that they played "with their children a generation ago."
I, of course, had never heard of this game, although, as a teenager, my son once suggested a bumper sticker: 'Nuke The Gay Whales'. My children played conventional board games - Clue, Monopoly, Sorry and the like.
It turns out that Save The Wales was a Milton Bradley board game introduced in 1978. It was not wildly popular. Brian, of the Board Game A Day blog, wrote, "Ever wonder why there aren't more preachy games that nobody can really win? Well it's because that's an awful idea for a game. This game proves that to be true. ... If you want to gradually kill a good time, this game is for you. This slow-paced unwinable board game about whale death smells worse than the corpse of a beached orca. Awful."
These libs still wish for "peace and justice in a turbulent world" - as we all should. If I may be so bold, I would suggest that readers of this blog spend a little time this Christmas season wishing/praying for world peace. But, please, stay away from that Save The Wales game.
Land Of Opportunity: The number of American households with assets of $1 million or more, not including their primary residence, increased 3% last year, from 10.1 million.
"There are now 145,000 U.S. households worth $25 million or more, up from 142,000 in 2014. There are 1.2 million households worth $5 million to $25 million, an increase of 42,000."
Be Careful Choosing Your Wardrobe: Once you're in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?
Book Review: 'A Good Month For Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad' by Del Quentin Wilber
This book begins with a good premise: follow a group of homicide detectives for a month and report how this dedicated, quirky team of detectives does its job. In such a job, the odds are often nearly impossible due to uncooperative witnesses, the problem of sorting through lies to find a kernel of truth and the exhaustion of chasing leads which often become dead ends. The stories are tragic but ... (more >>>)
Questions, More Questions: Tom McMahon asked, "Why Doesn't Taco Bell sell chili?" I want to know why they don't sell bells.
Bad Pun Of The Day: One of Santa's helpers was sent to a therapist because he seemed depressed. Diagnosis: Low Elf Esteem.
Tuesday December 20, 2016
All Hail King Merc: Mercedes-Benz has built an all-but insurmountable lead over rival BMW in the race for the title of the world’s biggest luxury-car brand for this year. Furthermore, Merc's sales momentum looks set to continue through at least 2018.
"Surging demand for sport utility vehicles including the GLC helped Mercedes deliveries jump 12% in the 11 months through November, more than double the pace of growth for BMW AG’s namesake brand. That left Mercedes more than 69,100 cars ahead of BMW for the period, making it all but certain of regaining the sales crown this year."
IHS Automotive, a research company, is predicting Mercedes's lead over BMW next year at more than 110,000 cars, and almost 68,000 vehicles in 2018.
Target Missed: When I first started in business, direct mail was fairly unscientific and mailings were a hit-or-miss proposition. Then came the age of Big Data. Technology has made the collection of data about prospective buyers cheap, easy and efficient. Mailing lists can now be sliced-n-diced into smaller, super-specific, micro-targeted segments. Reaching out to probable customers was never easier.
On some days, the only mail pieces I get are from crematories. The Grim Reaper now uses target marketing to find new, elderly prospects. (I bet that everyone who ever purchased a HurryCane is on every crematorium's list.) Car-wise, I do hear from BMW once in a while because I drive a luxury brand, purchased new. Every couple of years, they invite me to a comparison drive event, usually for the 7-Series.
Sixteen-plus years ago, when Big Data was still in its infancy, the Portland Jaguar dealer hosted an evening cocktail party complete with swing band (Pink Martini) to introduce the S-type to the community.
We received two invitations - one because we owned a 1996 Jaguar and one because we were a member of the local Jaguar club. A Jag salesman later told me that quite a few orders for S-Types were taken in the days following the party. Great buzz was created and sales were made. The event was a classic example of target marketing done right.
Inexplicably, I received a direct mail piece over the weekend, suggesting that I buy a new Chrysler Pacifica Minivan. The nicely-done four-color glossy piece offered me a "$1,000 bonus cash allowance." I'm scratching my head because:
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the Canadian-built successor to the Town & Country. It has more of a nose/hood than its predecessor and is not as tall. While you can get a stripper for under $30K, a loaded-up 2017 Chrysler Pacifica stickers at a whopping $52,270.
Fiat-Chrysler does a lot of dumb things. Purchasing whatever mailing list they used for this direct-mail campaign is just another one.
Famous For Being Famous: The best known of three glamorous sisters from Hungary, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor has died at age 99 years of heart failure. Rumor had it that she was bedriddden, in a semi-vegetative state for many years and suffered from dementia. The Gabor sisters were the Kardashians of the 1950s.
"Her nine marriages and reputation for shaving years off her age made her a pop-culture punch line. When entertainer Bob Hope joked, "You can calculate Zsa Zsa Gabor's age by the rings on her fingers," it only cemented her fame."
She turned her celebrity into a commodity, mining her own reputation for one-liners. "I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house," she said. Or "There is nothing wrong with a woman encouraging a man's advances, as long as they are in cash." RIP.
Hot Rod Fridge: Just before Thanksgiving, I noticed that the refrigerator in our garage was getting ominously noisy. It's over 27 years-old. The almond-colored General Electric 16 cubic-foot fridge with top freezer resided in our kitchen until we remodeled in 2006 and replaced it with a trendy stainless-steel front Frigidare. The out-of-style GE was banished to our garage, where it has given yeoman service for the past 10 years.
We called a repair guy, who carefully examined the ol' General and said that, even if he could get a new compressor for the 29 year-old fridge, he couldn't replace the Freon coolant which is now banned. And, if he modified the cooling system to use the latest unicorn-friendly refrigerant, the cost would exceed that of a new refrigerator.
So, we began a hunt for a new fridge ... (more >>>)
Just In Time For Christmas: The World's Simplest Electric Train can be seen in operation here.
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."
Friday December 16, 2016
Electrifying: The Chevy Bolt EV has been chosen as the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year. As always, there were other finalists but GM coughed up the most bribe money, I guess.
Motor Trend magazine proclaimed that "the Bolt EV is the first conceived from the get-go by GM to be a viable, affordable mass-market electric vehicle." The magazine called it "a game changer," noting that "with 238 miles of range and an effective price of $29,995 (after the federal $7,500 tax credit is factored in), the Bolt EV has made just about every other electric vehicle on sale obsolete."
Are you excited? Me neither. This award used to get me somewhat roused until I read a revealing article by Peter De Lorenzo, which detailed how this 'award' is "for sale" to the manufacturer that showers Motor Trend with the most ad/promo money. Peter wrote, "It's not about the "best" car. It has never been about the "best" car. It's about what car company will come up with the best media spending package that suits their interest in selling cars and that suits Motor Trend's interest in selling magazines and making money."
The COTY has been awarded to some awful vehicles, including ... (more >>>)
Here Comes Your Automotive Future: Technology consulting firm International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted that, by 2020:
Just Wondering: Do you still have to worry about Trans Fat if you drive a Trans Am?
Rick Steves Visits Hell: If you watch public television, you've undoubtedly seen the travel show, 'Rick Steves' Europe'. Steves, who is also a travel author, has been doing travelogues for PBS for over 25 years. He presents himself as an easy-going, kinda-geeky guy, who never loses his fascination with all things European. You'd think after so many years in the travel biz, some cynicism would have crept in, yet, as the late John Belushi would say, "But noooooo!"
Europe is filled with museums - there's one in every little burg, it seems. If there's one memorializing the Holocaust, Rick will visit it. He'll always provide a smug mini-lecture, concluding that "we must always be on guard to disallow man's inhumanity to man," while sad violin music plays in the background of the stark exhibition. Look, I think the Nazis treatment of the Jews, Poles and others was atrocious but, when I go on vacation, I want to have a good time, not get depressed.
The European Continent is chock full of impressive motoring museums but ... (more >>>)
Miscommunication: On November 8th, PRWeek published 'They're With Her: PR Execs Predict A Resounding Clinton Victory', in which the magazine reported "the pre-election predictions of 22 communications professional not one of whom predicted Donald Trump would win the election. Not only were their predictions wrong, they were embarrassingly wrong, with some apparently more influenced by personal opinion than science."
For example, Kris Balderston, president of global public affairs and strategic engagement at FleishmanHillard predicted, "I believe that my former boss Hillary Clinton will make history and become the first woman POTUS and she will win by an Electoral College landslide of 322 to 216. That includes Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina." Oops.
Snow Day: The snow began just after noon on Wednesday. Temperatures were at the freezing level and it stuck. Battle Ground got little accumulation; Portland received 2-4 inches. All schools in the area were closed Thursday and there were accidents aplenty during the morning commute.
Now, I know how to drive in snow but, sadly, it seems many people on the road don't. So, I cancelled my 10:00 am haircut appointment in downtown Vancouver. Luckily, I could reschedule it for today, when things are sunny and a little warmer. No use getting in a car wreck over hair.
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.
Wednesday December 14, 2016
Diluting The Brand: Aston Martin wants to become a "global lifestyle brand." In September 2016, "weeks after opening a flagship store in the Mayfair neighborhood of London showcasing branded handbags, caps and butter-soft leather jackets," Aston Martin has introduced the AM37, a 37-foot powerboat with a price tag of ... (more >>>)
Latin Or English? Yesterday, I was driving behind a small yellow SUV badged as a Subaru Crosstrek XV. Is it pronounced Exxx-Veee? Or Fifteen? Maybe it's only pronounced numerically in Vatican City. In any case, it's a jacked-up Impreza.
Later, a white Jaguar F-Type coupe passed me. What a stunning car.
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 >>>)
The Fall Of Identity Politics: Jim Goad wrote, "Still scratching their pointy heads over losing an election they were certain that history had preordained them to win, the Democrats are blaming everything except their own stupidity and arrogance."
"Every maladjusted minoritarian mini-tyrant in the country is freaking the frick out that their ragged, patchwork coalition of misfits is crumbing before their eyes. From coast to coast, every HIV-positive mulatto one-armed transgender lesbian midget is suddenly worried that Trump and his supporters in the heartland will become 'normalized'.
Huddled inside a rainbow-colored yet opaque bubble, it's obvious that they have no idea what just hit them. Many overpaid and demonstrably clueless strategists seem to think that perchance they didn't call people racists, sexists, homophobes, and Islamophobes enough."
Once upon a time, there were Democrats and Republicans. They socialized, played golf together and shared cocktails when the sun was over the yardarm. Their political differences were mostly philosophical. If someone was, say, an atheist, it was considered a bit odd but as long as that fella or gal didn't make a big deal about it, no one cared. If someone was a homosexual, no one was bothered as long as he or she kept their bedroom preferences to themselves.
Then came the 1960s and the riots and protests. The Democrat and Republican golfers/socializers/drinkers muttered about it but didn't do anything. As time passed, the demands of the left became more egregious. Finally, the Regular Folks had enough. The Tea Party was hatched and it soon morphed into the Trump Movement. And the Regular Folks, the inheritors of Nixon's Silent Majority label, rose up and 'protested' The Way Things Are with their ballots, voting their solid, inner convictions. Mr. Goad noted that they "didn't 'vote against their interests', as is so often patronizingly alleged; they voted against the condescending, scolding, sheltered creampuffs who try to dictate their interests to them."
To those sobbing, lefty snowflakes who have redefined the word 'meltdown', Jim Goad offers this: "Blame it on yourselves, assholes. Oh, wait, I forgot - you're incapable of doing that. Your entire platform is based on shirking personal responsibility. Instead, you can blame it on the monster you created while it's eating you alive." Indeed.
Slick Situation: Shawn Driscoll, manager of the T. Rowe Price New Era Fund, wrote that oil will average $40-50 per barrel over the next decade.
"Fast-forward to about 2006 when the shale era of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing really got underway. Since then, productivity - measured by gross barrels produced per rig - has improved at an exceptional rate. New shale formations, such as those in North Dakota, Texas, and New Mexico, now account for a significant amount of incremental global supply annually."
In fact ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Kick Kennedy: The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter' by Barbara Leaming
First of all, Kick Kennedy is not an anti-liberal bumper sticker (besides, it would have to read 'Kick A Kennedy') but rather, a biography of Kathleen Kennedy whose nickname was Kick. Fourth child and second daughter of Rose and Joe, she was sister to JFK, RFK and Teddy Kennedy.
This alleged biography covers only ... (more >>>)
Now Departing On Track Three: Jerome M. Williams, founder of Williams Trains, has died at age 79. He was best known for his line of O-gauge trains. I have his scale Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 electric locomotive in Tuscan Red as well as a dark-green Railway Express Agency boxcar.
In 2007, Jerry sold his firm to Bachmann Industries. He was inducted into the Hobby Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame in 2016. RIP.
Quote Of The Day is from Frank J. Fleming: "Due to rising energy costs, Santa will no longer leave a lump of coal in your stocking if you're naughty and instead just punch you while you sleep."
Monday December 12, 2016
Italian Muscle: Dan Neil reviewed the 2017 Maserati Levante SUV. The Levante is named "after the easterly Mediterranean wind famous for blowing swim trunks off hotel railings in Spain." It was originally to be called the Kubang until Jeremy Clarkson quipped that it was named after "the noise it will make once the warranty expires." Levante prices start at $72,000 - not outrageous for a luxury sport-ute with a torquey 345 horsepower V6 powering the 5,000 pound beastie.
It has shortcomings: "The grille makes it look like it's wearing corrective headgear. While I'm tallying demerits, it's got a monstrous turning circle and I cannot abide the way the legal-language warning appears on the beautiful center touch screen and stays there until you submit to pressing the Accept button." Sounds like trying to buy music on iTunes but most people don't do that several times a day. "More seriously, Maserati's gear selector can be quite finicky, and if you aren't mindful you can easily throw it into Reverse meaning to hit Park and, pulling down, Neutral instead of Drive."
Nevertheless, Dan wrote, "The Levante grew on me. It is so unapologetically boss. Out on the highway, the Levante rides suitably like a magic carpet, lush and well tempered but with a surprisingly amount of allowable body movement. This thing should have deck cleats.
Switching into one of the Sport modes tightens the suspension's laces, as well as sharpens/weights the steering and powertrain response. Let the crazy lupine growling commence. ... But if the Levante is predictable in its muscle-truck absurdity, it's exceptional in ways easy to miss. Cabin quiet and isolation, for example. In addition to the air pillows at all four corners, the windshield and windows are made of acoustic-damping glass, a feature usually found over the $100,000 threshold. Oh, thank you very much."
It's hard to make a Utility Vehicle look sleek and sexy like a Maserati coupe. So I'd rate it a fail in that department. And, if a luxury SUV is what you're looking for, why not pick something more reliable than a Maser? Perhaps something with a Lexus, Mercedes or Cadillac badge. Yes, the Caddy isn't super-reliable but most parts/repairs are relatively inexpensive.
Inventive: Ford Motor Co. has registered 1,442 patents this year, a 25% increase from 2015 and the most among the major automakers in the United States.
Remembering Aunt Ceil: My godmother and favorite aunt died 62 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 >>>)
History Revisited: I thought the Spice War took place in the 17th Century between the Dutch and Portuguese.
It turns out that it began on November 9, 2016. And it involves another stupid business shunning customers and prospects who voted for Donald Trump.
Trump Rally: Ever since Donald Trump won the presidential election, the stock market has soared. As I write this, the Dow is air-kissing 20,000, while the S&P - with dividends reinvested - is up almost 13% in 2016. Even the staid, 87 year-old Wellington Fund is up over 11% this year. Furthermore, the Consumer Sentiment Index rose from 93.8 to 98 in the last month. The surge was largely due to consumers’ initial reactions to Trump's surprise victory.
It's fun to point out that, on November 9th, Paul Krugman - the diminutive doomsayer and Nobel Prize-winning economist from the New York Times - predicted that the stock market would never recover from Donald Trump's victory ... (more >>>)
Not Original Enough: The Original Taco House in Vancouver, WA has closed after five years, due to a lack of business. Tucked away on a back street, a low rating (1.9/5) from Yelp and having done little in advertising and/or promotion, I'm not surprised. The two locations in Portland remain open.
To Slip The Surly Bonds Of Earth: John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, has died at age 95 of cancer. As an aviator, he fought in World War II and the Korean War. Later, he was a test pilot and, in 1957, completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight.
Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, circling the globe three times during a flight lasting almost 5 hours. This made him the third American in space and the fifth human being in space. In 1998, he became the oldest person to fly in space as a crew member of the Discovery space shuttle.
He was also a U.S. Senator, serving from 1974 until 1999. His heroism and accomplishments crossed multiple generations.
Here's a John Glenn quote worth remembering: "I pray every day and I think everybody should. I don't think you can be up here and look out the window as I did the first day and look out at the Earth from this vantage point. We're not so high compared to people who went to the moon and back. But to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is, to me, impossible. It just strengthens my faith." RIP.
Mad About MADD: They may have begun 26 years ago with the best of intentions but I'm no longer tying ribbons on my side mirror to support these bullies.
Radley Balko wrote, "MADD's biggest victory on this front was a nationwide blood-alcohol threshold of .08, down from .10. But when two-thirds of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve blood-alcohol levels of .14 and above, and the average fatal accident occurs at .17, this move doesn't make much sense. It's like lowering the speed limit from 65 to 60 to catch people who drive 100 miles per hour."
The U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed all the statistical data and concluded "the evidence does not conclusively establish that .08 BAC laws by themselves result in reductions in the number and severity of crashes involving alcohol."
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.
Thursday December 8, 2016
Chinese Junk: Dan Neil reviewed the 2017 Buick LaCrosse and reported that the GM "still makes a Buick vaguely like the one you remember, and they call it the LaCrosse: a full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan with a rear bench seat (sorry, no front bench) and four large doors surrounding 103 cubic feet of living space. Daddy's home.
I'd only provide that this dead-quiet, soft-riding Buick - so redolent of vintage flavors as to be an heirloom tomato - is radically different from past efforts in the critical area of mass (3,598 pounds FWD and 3,840 pounds AWD). The new LaCrosse is one of Cleopatra's new lightweight barges." Unlike Cleo's conveyance, the Buick has some odd accent lines on rear flanks and elsewhere making it look like an older Bangleized BMW - and not in a good way.
He also noted this: "The stop/start function can't be switched off, or defeated, which older drivers enjoy about as much as increased bladder urges." He's right. Man, I hate driving those stop/start vehicles. But, this sedan isn't designed for me ... or you. "In 2015, the Buick Division sold 1.28 million vehicles world-wide. Eighty percent of those sales were in China - 80%! - while U.S. and Canada took 19%." Each LaCrosse comes equipped with "small tragedies of hard plastic in the cabin and a driving experience as memorable as a nightcap of Propofol, the LaCrosse hits every Buick cliché like a countersunk nail in a coffin lid." And there's "hard grained plastic below the cabin waterline, or the cringe-y simulated wood trim, and the rubber cover over the steering-wheel air bag."
The photo of the La Crosse's interior certainly doesn't look impressive in a near-luxury sense. All this drowsy dreck can be yours for a price tag north of $48,000. Ouch! And that doesn't include options such as all-wheel-drive, 20-inch painted aluminum wheels or adaptive front suspension.
No, thanks. And, if the Chinese are buying such cars, maybe they aren't as smart as we thought.
Slow Going: Scott Grannis has posted a graph showing the growth of the Gross Domestic Product over the past 50 years ... (more >>>)
Ghetto Grape Soda: Soft drinks were the top commodity bought by food stamp recipients shopping at outlets run by one major U.S. grocery retailer, according to a new study released by the Food and Nutrition Service. That's the federal agency responsible for running the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the food stamp program.
By contrast, milk was the top commodity bought from the same retailer by customers not on food stamps.
"In calendar year 2011, according to the study, food stamp recipients spent approximately $357,700,000 buying soft drinks from an enterprise the study reveals only as 'a leading U.S. grocery retailer'."
That was more than they spent on any other "food" commodity - including .... (more >>>)
Over-Expansion: Starbucks announced plans to build 12,000 new locations yesterday. I am reminded of the old headline from The Onion: 'New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks'.
A Holy Day Celebrating A Blessed Event: Today, Catholics throughout the world celebrate The Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son, Jesus.
Although the belief ... (more >>>)
Quote of the Day is from Victor Borge: "Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year."
Tuesday December 6, 2016
November Auto Sales: Light vehicle sales were at a 17.75 million SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate) in November, down about 2% from November 2015, and down 1% from the 17.9 million annual sales rate last month. Air is beginning to leak from the balloon.
The weakest portion always deflates first and year-over-year sales plunged 14% at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to 160,827 units. The stalwart Jeep brand posted a sales drop of 12% as the Jeep Cherokee showed a sales decline of 37%, the Compass fell 24%, Grand Cherokee sales fell 2% and Patriot sales tumbled 14%.
Sales of the company's Chrysler brand plummeted 47% as sales of the now-discontinued Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan fell 72%. Sales of the full-sized Chrysler 300 tumbled 45% to 2,566 units. The all-new Pacifica minivan posted November sales of 8,753. Fiat sales fell 15% to 2,415 units, while Alfa Romeo sold only 23 cars in November. Dodge sales were down 21%. Ram pickup sales increased 12% to 42,511 trucks.
General Motors Co. posted U.S. sales of 252,644 vehicles, an increase of 10% compared with November 2015. Cadillac sales totaled 15,326 units, up 15%. Buick sales increased 16% to 18,530 vehicles, including the made-in-China Enclave. Total Chevrolet deliveries in November increased by 8% to 169,675 units. The GMC brand was up by 15%. It should be noted that The General dove deeply into incentives to move metal in November. GM's fleet sales were up 19% - another troubling indicator. And yet inventory levels are still at an unhealthy 90 days.
Ford Motor Co. sales rose 5% year over year, pushing year-to-date unit sales to 2.37 million. Numbers were helped SUVs (up 19%), F-Series pickup trucks (up 11% to 72,089 trucks), and the Lincoln brand (up 19% to 9,429 vehicles). The sedan segment of Lincoln skyrocketed 42% on sales of the all-new Lincoln Continental.
Toyota posted big gains with the Highlander, Corolla, Tacoma and Tundra. Prius sales were down 17%. Nissan reported more than 100,000 Nissan brand sales for the tenth consecutive month; total Nissan/Infiniti sales were up 7.5%. Subaru sales increased 11%, while Mazda sales were off 3% to 22,041 vehicles. Kia sales increased 15%; Hyundai sales rose 2%.
American Honda was up 7% in sales. The Honda brand increased 8%, while Acura sales fell 5% to 11,616 vehicles.
In the luxury/near-luxury field, Audi sales increased 3% to 17,118 units. Lexus sales were off 1% to 29,050 vehicles; only 440 LS sedans were sold in November - a drop of 18% from last year. Mercedes-Benz sold 32,927 vehicles, almost unchanged from a year ago. BMW sales fell 18% to 26,189 units. Infiniti sales increased 4% to 12,112 units. Maserati sold 1,380 vehicles, a jump of 27%. 387 Bentleys found buyers in November, up a whopping 106%. And Jaguar's growth was almost off the charts - up an incredible 217% to 3,381 vehicles.
Commie Car Woes: The Russian-made jeep carrying the ashes of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro broke down in the middle of his funeral procession, forcing soldiers to push the vehicle until it could be repaired. This is certainly a succinct metaphor for the broken society Castro created.
Speaking from the White House, President Obama blamed FoxNews for the incident.
"A Date Which Will Live In Infamy ..." 75 years ago tomorrow - on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. This event galvanized our nation and made us officially part of the Second World War, even though we had already been involved in assisting England - and other nations - against the Nazis.
On this somber anniversary, let us give thanks to all who serve or have served.
Family legend has it that my dad and a couple of his brothers hitchhiked down to a recruiting office the following day and put their names on the enlistment roll. My dad chose the Navy but wasn't called to active duty until 1944. Probable reasons were not enough ships available plus his critical worker status as an experienced freight railroader.
His supply ship ... (more >>>)
Who Knew? James Lileks has noted that Studebaker Weasels helped win World War II.
Book Review: 'Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness' by Craig Nelson
This 500-plus page book spends much time dealing with the horror and gruesome aspects of the Pearl Harbor attack. The personal accounts of horror, suffering and bravery bring the book to life. Sometimes too much life - I eventually began skipping over some of the stories because they were repetitious and painful to read.
Much of the book is dedicated to the attack itself ... (more >>>)
A Death In The Family: My daughter's dog, Lucy, who was a regular visitor to our home, died on December 2nd at age 15. We toasted Lucy the Dog during Saturday's dinner with a bottle of 2011 Chateaneuf-du-Pape. We dined on pasta and meatballs, one of Lucy's favorite People Foods. And had chocolate cake with whipped cream topping. The dog's ears used to go up whenever she heard the can being shaken; Lucy loved the taste of whipped cream. My daughter, her husband, my wife and I traded various dog stories over dinner; it was a canine version of an Irish wake, although Irish wakes don't usually feature Italian food. Godspeed, Lucy.
Lucy was always interested in watching the trains operate on my O-gauge layout. Here she is with me on Thanksgiving Day:
Business Closure: Van Duyn Chocolates, a Portland tradition since 1927, has closed its doors for good, due to the untimely death of its owner and president.
In the 1980s, my plastics company manufactured custom acrylic candy displays for Van Duyn.
I Hereby Declare ... that the Christmas Season has begun. I installed a Christmas CD in my car on Sunday morning. On Monday, it snowed. Coincidence ... or what?
Bad Pun of the Day: Sign at a nudist camp: 'Sorry - Clothed for Winter'.
Friday December 2, 2016
Closeout Sale? FCA is cutting Fiat sticker prices for 2017 by 20% and even more (some models will be cut by a whopping $5,000). Peter De Lorenzo quipped, "If you've ever wondered what the white flag of futility looks like in this business, well, this is it." Sales of the Fiat 500X, a Fiat-shaped SUV created by draping an oversized, cartoonish 500 body over a Jeep Renegade platform, are especially dismal.
The resurrection of the Fiat brand in the U.S. never took hold. Alfa Romeo may ultimately share the same fate.
No fan of Sergio Marchionne, De Lorenzo wrote, "As for Fiat dealers, they are being forced pretty much at gunpoint to move 2016 Fiat models out of their showrooms to make way for the newly priced 2017 models. Good luck with that, and by the way, just how much more condescension and humiliation can these dealers endure? We are talking about a group of businesspeople who have been bamboozled by Sergio Marchionne from the moment he first bombarded them with visions of endless riches and glory, with none of it turning out to be true."
De Lorenzo concluded, "I am certain of one thing: We are watching an automotive disaster of significant proportion unfolding right before our eyes, in real time. You can stick a fork in Fiat, it is finished in the U.S. market."
In Italy, Fiat's primary market, one sees lots of 'foreign' cars, including Asian vehicles but few Fiats. Maybe the white flag of surrender is a worldwide one for Fiat.
In related Fiat disaster news, Lapo Elkann, 39, the bad-boy grandson of Fiat founder Gianni Agnelli, was busted for allegedly faking his own kidnapping following a two-day bender with a transgender escort at a Manhattan housing project last week. He ran up a hefty tab while partying on cocaine, pot and alcohol supplied by the escort - and tried to pay it off by calling a family rep and claiming he'd been kidnapped.
"Elkann - who barely survived a 2005 cocaine-and-heroin overdose that involved a transsexual prostitute in Italy - allegedly said he needed $10,000 in cash to secure his freedom from the housing project across from Bellevue Hospital."
No Longer 'Standard': Manual transmissions are fitted to less than 3% of cars in the U.S.
"Edmunds says that 47% of all new models sold in the U.S were offered with both automatic and manual transmissions in 2006. That number dropped to 37% in 2011 and is only 27% today."
We sold our last manual transmission car - a '67 Volkswagen Beetle - in 1995. Nevertheless, in case of an emergency, both of my children know how to drive a stick-shift. My grandson doesn't.
Ray Update: In mid-July 2015, my good friend and car buddy, Ray Lukas, whom I've known for over 57 years, fell while in his garage, breaking his right arm and left leg. He suffered numerous complications from multiple surgeries and has had limited mobility until recently.
I'm pleased to report that, Ray now is getting around with a single cane and hopes to be driving his freshly-restored, yellow 1988 Corvette when the North Central Pennsylvania weather improves next Spring. Each of Ray's five cars and trucks have automatic transmissions, so the fact that he has a stiff left foot will not inhibit his driving ability.
In early 2002, Ray and I embarked on an eight-day, all-car/all-rail extravaganza, visiting every car, train, trolley and model train attraction in Southern California.
You're Fired: In response to the Fight For Fifteen crowd, who demonstrated for a $15 minimum wage, "McDonald's has announced plans to roll out automated kiosks and mobile pay options at all of its U.S. locations, raising questions about the future of its 1.5 million employees in the country and around the globe."
The locations that are seeing the first automated kiosks closely correlate with the fight for a $15 minimum wage (Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.).
Back in the mid-1980s, my plastics manufacturing business purchased a Tennant self-propelled floor sweeper to replace daily manual clean-up by all employees at the end of each shift. Based on labor savings alone, the machine paid for itself in two months. At the time, our firm was growing rapidly so no one was laid off. But the idea that machines can reduce the need for more employees was imprinted in my mind.
Business owners aren't stupid. If something begins to cost too much, they'll seek out alternatives. For McDonald's, it's automation. Bye-bye, jobs. Once again, the law of unintended progressive consequences kicks in.
This is what happens when you let liberal politicians who have never run a business or made a profit call the shots. It's is how socialism begins ... and eventually fails.
Commies For Christ? In a recent interview, Pope Francis equated Christianity with Communism when asked about his views on Marxist ideology. "It is the communists, in all cases, that think like Christians. Christ has spoken of a society where the poor, the weak and the excluded are those who make the decisions. Not the demagogues, or the barbarians, but rather the people and the poor that have faith in God or not that we have to help obtain equality and liberty."
Jeeez. This guy is wearing out his welcome. We need a MCCA leader: Make Catholicism Catholic Again. Embroidered red caps, anyone?
Holiday Fact: The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
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