A Blog About Cars ... And More
Tuesday February 28, 2017
AutoSketch: 1951 Nash Rambler - Proud To Be An Appliance
These days, calling a car an 'appliance' is considered an insult. It wasn't always so.
Appliances were new-fangled and wondrous things in the 1920s. My maternal grandparents didn't get an electric refrigerator until the 1930s. As a teenager, I could still see and touch the zinc-lined, mahogany ice box which my grandmother kept in the basement - 'just in case' electricity was repealed.
Although Bendix introduced the first automatic washing machine in 1937, most households didn't have automatic washers until after World War II.
Kelvinator was among some two dozen home refrigerator brands introduced to the U.S. market in 1916. By 1923, Kelvinator had grabbed an astounding 80% of the market for electric refrigerators.
The Depression of the 1930s hit the appliance market hard; sales dropped by almost 35%. George W. Mason assumed control of Kelvinator in 1928. Under his leadership, the company lowered its costs while increasing market share through 1936 - a remarkable feat.
When Charles Nash, founder of Nash Motors began looking for his successor, he turned to George Mason. Mason initially rebuffed Nash's offer, but relented when Nash agreed to merge Nash and Kelvinator. High value per dollar was the key to success in the appliance field and Mason brought his philosophy and skill at Nash, bringing unibody construction, lower-weight and better features to the company's automotive offerings.
Nash was always a mid-priced car but, in the postwar era, Mason realized that he needed to break into the low-priced field. But the firm needed to offer something more than just another "me-too" car. The result was the Nash Rambler, introduced in mid-April 1950. The car was smaller than any of the low-priced three offerings but was loaded with standard equipment, including ... (more >>>)
Afternoon Delight: Saturday brought rarely-seen sunshine accompanied by chilly temperatures. By 2:00 pm, the temperature had reached 42 degrees, so I fired up my 1939 Plymouth coupe and went for a drive.
Overhead, the skies were bright winter blue with cloudy streaks but a solid ring of clouds ran around the horizon, obscuring all the hills and mountains. I immediately thought of a giant ring of duchess potatoes surrounding a big juicy steak.
The following evening, I cooked a big filet mignon on the outdoor grill as a celebration of my late February old car drive along the back roads of northern Clark County. My wife and I shared it along with some 2008 Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla, Washington. It was a fine meal, although we had scalloped potatoes rather than the duchess kind.
It's a good thing I took my drive on Saturday. We awoke to snow on Sunday morning.
Faux Rage: Internet meet scheduling site Meetup.com is angered by the president's extreme vetting program, noting that "after the recent executive order aimed to block people on the basis of nationality and religion, a line was crossed. At a time when core democratic ideals feel under attack, we feel a duty to spark more civic participation. Last week, we created 1,000+ #Resist Meetup Groups to act as local hubs for actions on behalf of democracy, equality, human rights, social justice, and sustainability."
Jack Baruth probed for the true motives behind the manufactured outrage and found: "Meetup, the company, just filed for more H1Bs than it's requested in the entire history of the H1-B program." Jack wrote, "While it's touching to think that Meetup is deeply vested in the rights of Somalis to travel to the United States, it seems far more likely that they are just hoping to prevent Mr. Trump from getting enough momentum in his administration to eliminate, or drastically revise, the labor policies that are keeping high-skilled white-collar American citizens out of a job. This is corporate activism in perfect synecdoche: a focus on the bottom line dressed up with some marketing-speak to warm the hearts of dipshits with masters' degrees in feminist basket-weaving."
Jack has written about H-1B scams before and I've posted excerpts with my comments here.
I've seen more than one of these scams firsthand. I once ... (more >>>)
Case Closed: Judge Joseph A. Wapner, who became a household name on the television show 'The Peoples's Court', has died at age 97. The judge presided over the reality court show from 1981 to 1993.
Wapner attended Hollywood High School and dated actress Lana Turner once while in high school. RIP.
Making America Great Again: Last Friday, President Trump addressed the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference in Maryland.
He received a very warm reception. A month into his administration, the president has, through excellent appointments and executive actions, assuaged the concerns of most conservatives who doubted he was the real deal. He is, although he is not an ideologue but, rather, a pragmatist - a good thing in my opinion. Trump is, for many, changing the definition of American conservatism.
President Trump has also accomplished much in a mere month of governing.
More Proof That People Have Too Much Money: Fleur, Chef Hubert Keller's restaurant at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, offers a $5,000 hamburger. For that kind of money, it had better come with some awesome fries on the side.
It's made from $100/pound Wagyu beef with a few slabs of prime foie gras ($45 a pound), and butter to sautee a mound of sliced black truffles ($1,500/pound). Keller carefully layers the three ingredients onto a freshly baked brioche bun. If you want it with bacon, there's a $3 extra charge. Just kidding. Bon appétit.
I'll stick with McDonald's Quarter Pounder and invest the rest, thanks.
Quote Of The Day is from Author C. Clarke: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong."
Friday February 24, 2017
Peak Auto? In 2006, the number of light vehicles per household in the United States peaked at 2.050. Since then it dropped to a low of 1.927 vehicles per household in 2013, before climbing back up to 1.950 in 2015.
"Measured by miles traveled per household, the peak year was 2004, when the distance driven came to 24,349 miles. Miles driven reached a recent low of 21,866 miles driven per household in 2013 and climbed back to 22,311 in 2015."
Peak auto for me happened in late 1992, when we owned six automobiles - four of them collector cars. By late 1998, we were down to three autos and that's where we've stayed ever since.
Aging Hobby: According to a Wall Street Journal article, the "average age of the National Model Railroad Association's 19,000 or so members is 64, up alarmingly from 39 in the mid-1970s."
The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum, near Pittsburgh, promotes the hobby by ... (more >>>)
Reality Check: It is appalling to see the Oroville Dam with its dirt overflow spillways. Anyone who deals with downspout rainwater knows that dirt is useless for controlling the flow of water. It also quickly erodes. Who hasn't put a mix of rocks or pebbles or large pieces of slate below a pesky downspout to prevent soil erosion during heavy rainstorms?
Then there's the State of California, which is too busy spending taxpayer funds on 'important' matters such as transgender bathrooms, welcoming hordes of homeless and the chaos they cause as well as making plans for gay pride parades, that they just don't have maintenance money for its state dams.
In 2015, California governor Jerry Brown, responding to calls from GOP presidential candidates to build new dams and renovate old ones: "I've never heard of such utter ignorance. Building a dam won't do a damn thing about fires or climate change or the absence of moisture in the air and ground of California. If they want to run for president, they had better do eighth grade science before they made such utterances." In other words Global Warming will parch the earth and dams will no longer be necessary. Brown's utterance seemed profound only to those who had done a lot of drinking or had suffered a bad head injury.
Well, you know the old proverb: Man plans, God laughs. And the Oroville Dam is failing, with water damaging the dirt spillways worse that a gang of three hundred-forty-pound men rushing Golden Corral's buffet table. Liberals became so upset they went and hung themselves in the nearest gender-neutral bathroom. Conservatives simply muttered, "We told you so."
David Cole pointed out that "climate-change apocalyptics had convinced the Silly Putty-brained California powers-that-be that rain was never returning to the state. Quite literally, new dams, and improvements on old ones, were rejected because a doomsday cult had convinced politicians that water was “over,” that the drought that began in 2012 was not a passing thing but an "era," something that would last decades if not a century. And why build new dams if they'll be no water for them to hold? Why refurbish old ones if there's no chance they'll ever be filled again?"
This is why loony liberal should never run government organizations.
Why Malls Are Nearly Empty: For the 2016 holiday season (November and December), online sales totaled $80.22 billion, up 17.7% compared with 2015. Desktop sales increased by 12% and mobile sales rose by 44% for the two-month period. Mobile spending accounted for 21% of holiday season spending.
Advice Of The Day: If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: "Take two aspirin" and "Keep away from children."
Wednesday February 22, 2017
Energizer Bunnies: Ed Straker wrote, "I was listening to an NPR report on the Chevy Bolt, an electric car that is very reasonably priced (if you're a millionaire). But the thing that struck me was how most of the people being interviewed, the people who were interested or knowledgeable about electric cars, were mostly very effeminate-sounding men.
The men interviewed spoke in soft, hushed tones, speaking almost musically, as if their voices had been "auto-tuned" like a Britney Spears song. And they stretched out certain vowel sounds to give an especially feminine lilt to their voices."
I dunno. I knew one gay guy who drove a Prius - a black one. The Prius, not the guy. But I knew several straight guys who drove them, too. As to effeminate-sounding men, I have two observations:
In any case, it sounds like these men are exhibiting the same attitude of excessive self-importance and eco-snobbery as early Prius adapters. My brother coined a word for it: Pomprius.
Numbers Don't Lie: Based on average annual GDP growth, Barack Obama is the worst president ever as Comic Book Guy would say.
According to Mark Perry, Gross Domestic Product grew slowest under President Obama compared with ... (more >>>)
She'll Be Missed: Brenda Buttner, long-time host of Fox News' 'Bulls and Bears' - a Saturday morning must-see for me, has died at age 55 after a battle with cancer.
Buttner graduated with honors from Harvard University and went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where she graduated with high honors in politics and economics. She joined Fox in 2000, after hosting CNBC's 'The Money Club'. She was a longtime Ridgewood, NJ resident and mother of two daughters. She was also a motorcycle enthusiast.
I'll always remember Brenda's vibrant on-air presence, her quick wit and infectious smile when she hosted the fast-moving 'Bulls and Bears' which featured several oft-contentious and strongly-opinionated panelists. She never lost her composure or control of the panel. Rest in peace, Brenda.
Book Review: 'The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech' by Kimberly Strassel
Kim Strassel is a political columnist at The Wall Street Journal and is one of the pundits often seen on various cable news shows, including Fox News Sunday. Her book provides a frightening look at how the political left uses various underhanded tactics to bully conservative Americans out of their free speech rights.
Especially disturbing is the ... (more >>>)
Root Cause: The strange and often atrocious behavior of the Not My President crowd sometimes leaves me baffled.
Fred Reed at Fred On Everything wrote, "Trump did not cause the deep division in the country. It caused him. There are two very different Americas. I suspect that the half of the country that voted for Trump, that voted with wild enthusiasm, that roared at huge rallies, was not so much voting for Trump as against the other America. It was just that they had never had a chance before. The two countries have little in common and do not belong on the same geography.
Half of the country seems culturally dominated from the ghetto. The other half embodies standards of behavior that have usually been thought congruent with civil society." Such folks are quiet traditionalists - especially when compared to the Loony Left, whose protests are noisier than a howler monkey that has been set on fire.
"Throughout the campaign, Trump's partisans forgathered in huge rallies, applauded, calmly went home, and later voted. At the same time we saw on Clinton's behalf mobs of ill-bred, worse mannered, loutish, perennial adolescents blocking highways, shutting down rallies, engaging in vandalism and physically attacking supporters of Trump. Cars were destroyed, fires set, ATMs smashed.
Black Lives Matter, always ghetto predators, were worst, but low-grade college students and their equally dismal professors joined in. They were obscene, infantile." If brains were taxed, I'm certain that most of these protesters would qualify for a rebate.
At some point, the police, or National Guard, or some other law-enforcers will feel threatened enough to open fire on some of these rioters in self defense. Then the rowdy protests will cease, replaced by quiet candlelight vigils. Worked at Kent State, didn't it?
Courage is a character trait not often found in the Protest Game.
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks on the future of home phones: "They'll never improve the home phone. They will get uglier and uglier and look less like phones; one day your kids will find you shouting HELLO? into the steam iron, and put you in a home."
I believe that's a reference to a 1997 'Simpsons' episode in which Grandpa Simpson tries to dial using the television remote, "Hello? Hello? Stupid cordless phone! I'll try the old fashioned model." Then he picks up an iron and puts it to his ear, "Ah, that's better! How ya doin', Gertie?"
Monday February 20, 2017
Truckin': Dan Neil reviewed the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor, which he described as "majestic in every direction."
I dunno. To me, trucks are trucks. I've never owned one. I rent them as needed. In college, I drove pickup trucks, mostly Dodges and Chevys, while delivering and installing home appliances on weekends and during the summer. These were basic work trucks - radio, heater and three on the tree. Well, in the case of the Chevy, it was two on the tree. First gear didn't work.
In my Oregon plastics business, we used a base-model Dodge van instead of a pickup truck, because of all the rain - we needed to keep our cargo dry. So, in evaluating my remarks about Dan's review, you should remember that I'm biased toward basic work vehicles and have trouble getting excited about poofy, optioned-up trucks or massive, mostly-useless performance editions, such as the Raptor.
My good friend and fellow car nut Ray Lukas feels the same way. His 2005 red Dodge Dakota was purchased new, with a V6, A/C, AWD and not too much else. He uses it for haulin' stuff. Ray's had troubles with his Dakota over the years but still keeps it around because it's cheaper to fix it than buy a new replacement truck.
Dan also refers to the Raptor as a "delightfully frivolous man-toy," or "high-performance off-road truck." Priced at $66,000, it is indeed frivolous.
"At 7.2 feet between the front fenders, the Raptor has the broadest shoulders of any light-duty vehicle on the market, as wide as the original, military-style Hummer H1, and you remember how beloved they were." The truck is looooong, "measuring 231 inches nose to tail, over a 145-inch wheelbase. It's Johnny Long Torso." It's the exact same length as a 1977 Lincoln Town Car.
"The irony is that few Raptor owners will dare exercise theirs properly off-road. Because that would be madness. It would only take one weekend of pounding trail to turn this glossy, high-tech terrabot into an old truck with a $1,200-a-month payment. Not only that, the residuals of Raptors are so strong they are practically instant collectibles. I'd keep mine under a mink blanket." Besides, it's so long and wide that it's as usable on off-road trails as a Greyhound bus.
Power? "Under that storm drain-looking hood louver is Ford's twin-turbo, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, reinforced top and bottom, and boosted to the stars for the occasion. The high-pressure turbocharging raises output to 450 hp (and 510 lb-ft of torque), 85 hp higher than the standard EcoBoost tune and even 39 hp more than the previous V8." What? No V8?!? At least the '77 Town Car had one of those - many came with the humongous 460 cubic-inch version.
As a work truck, this thing is a joke. Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company is laughing all the way to the bank.
Tank You: Lionel Electric Trains has offered Sunoco tank cars since the 1930s. On the three-level train layout built by my dad in 1947, the middle level had a steam loco pulling a freight consist. One of the freight cars was a post-war, silver double-dome Sunoco tank car ... (more >>>)
Before Wrestling Became Big Time ... there was George 'The Animal' Steele. Born William James Myers, he was active in 'professional' wrestling from 1967 to 1988. He had a masters degree and had been a school teacher prior to entering the wrestling game.
I remember watching his antics on our old black-and-white television in the late 1960s. He was famous for tearing up the padded corner turnbuckle covers to shreds using his teeth. The Animal died last week at age 79. RIP.
New Blood Needed: Pope Francis is concerned about what he calls a "hemorrhage" of priests and nuns from the Catholic Church. The Pope said that the loss of clergy is weakening the Church. I don't think anyone can argue with that.
"First among the factors he cited as causing nuns and priests to quit their vocations is a society that discourages lifelong commitments. Francis lamented that many conduct their lives based on "a la carte" choices." Let's analyze that. If you operate a restaurant and patronage is declining, you've got a problem. Declining church attendance is like falling restaurant attendance, you've got to find out what's wrong and fix it. But, if you own a restaurant and you can't even hire staff (cooks, wait people, etc.), you've got a really serious problem. That's why the Pope is worried.
Consider this: While the number of priests in the United States more than doubled to 58,000, between 1930 and 1965, since then that number has fallen to 37,000 in 2016. More than 20% of U.S. parishes do not have a resident priest or pastor. Only 548 new priests were ordained last year and more than two-thirds of the 600 seminaries that were operating in 1965 have closed.
Eighty years ago ... (more >>>)
Joke Of The Day: A group of Americans were traveling by tour bus through Holland. They stopped at a cheese farm and a young guide led them through the process of cheese making, explaining that goat milk was used.
She showed the group a lovely hillside where many goats were grazing. "These are the older goats put out to pasture when they no longer produce," she explained.
She then asked, "What do you do in America with your old goats?"
A spry old gentleman answered, "They send us on bus tours."
Thursday February 16, 2017
Did Your Wife Give You A Cadillac For Valentine's Day? Mine gave me two of them. The first is a 1:43 scale diecast model of a 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 60 with pink body and white top. This model is ... (more >>>)
News To Me: I didn't know that Opel and Vauxhall were for sale. Multiple media sources reported that an acquisition of General Motors' European divisions by France's PSA Group could occur within a matter of days.
Market share for the Opel/Vauxhall brands has dropped from 6.9% in 2014 to 6.3% in 2015 to 6.2% last year. Volkswagen Group easily dominates the EU market with a 23% share. Restricted to selling mostly in Europe, Opel has long struggled to turn a profit.
With this sale, GM will be walking away from the European market. The General also pulled out of Russia in 2015 and took a charge of $600 million when it closed its plant in St. Petersburg.
I've written more about Opel and Vauxhall here.
Whither Craftsman? Nobody's perfect. That's why I have a mix of tools in my collection. Some used to belong to my dad (most of those are pre-1960 and not name-brand items), some from my late machinist father-in-law (many are premium-grade tools, some have been modified/created by him) and my own stuff. I bought cheapie tools when I was in college (my 9¢ screwdriver is an example) and, in the early years of my marriage - due to other financial priorities.
Beginning in the 1980s, I began purchasing a better grade of hand tools and power tools. Most of the hand tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.) were Sears Craftsman brand - made in the USA. We used lots of Craftsman products in the rolling toolboxes at my plastics business - because they were dependable and Craftsman offered good value for the money in those days.
In the 1980s, almost everything branded Craftsman was made in the United States. And well-made, too. In recent years, Sears has outsourced to China, in search of lower prices. And, it's no secret ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Destiny Of The Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President' by Candice Millard
This is the latest form of biography: Biography Lite, where James A. Garfield's early years are summarized in the first 100 pages or so. An admirable man, he rose from poverty to become a scholar, Civil War hero, congressman and president.
The majority of the book focuses on his assassination; by page 132 of the 300+ page book, the president has already been wounded by bullets. Garfield was shot less than four months after he was sworn in as president; he lingered - his health steadily declining - until he died less than three months later. During his last days, he asked to moved from sweltering Washington, DC to the breezy New Jersey shore, near Long Branch, where the salt air might be beneficial. The president traveled in a specially cushioned railway car. A spur line to the seaside mansion was built in a night by volunteers.
Garfield was beloved by the populace. The country grieved for his loss almost as much as it had done for Lincoln. More than 100,000 citizens ... (more >>>)
Deport This Ingrate Back To Afghanistan Right Now: Bilal Ahmed Askaryar has been charged with assault in the effort to block Betsy DeVos from entering a public school last week. Askaryar is a gay NPR contributor and an Afghan refugee whose family fled the Taliban.
I'm sure the Taliban would fix his 'gay' (and other) issues in short order.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly. Only when you do something is it almost impossible to do it without mistakes. Therefore people who are contributing nothing to society except their constant criticisms can feel both intellectually and morally superior."
Tuesday February 14, 2017
Fiat-Chrysler's Last Gasp? Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. is in trouble and I think the Italian-controlled Dutch multinational corporation may actually die during the next economic slowdown. Over the past 40 years, Chrysler has been on the brink of disaster more times than sweet Nell has been tied-up on railroad tracks.
In January 2017, the world's seventh-largest auto maker experienced a U.S. sales drop of 11%, the fifth consecutive monthly year-over-year sales decline. What's more worrisome is that its perennial best-selling Jeep brand is declining as well. Jeep is FCA's top product and has been carrying the company. In 2016, Jeep was the 6th best-selling vehicle brand in America - 926,376 examples were sold, representing over 40% of FCA's total sales. After years of uninterrupted growth, Jeep sales began to fall in September 2016. And have declined every month since then.
Fiat-Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marchionne has been choking off new Jeep model development money, so he could allocate more bucks to development of his pet brand, Alfa Romeo. Peter De Lorenzo, the Autoextremist, wrote that Marchionne's strategy "resonates to a level of flat-out stupidity that is simply impossible to comprehend."
Ram pickups were up slightly in January but, as John Rosevear of The Motley Fool noted, were "eclipsed by the newer Ford F-150 and Super Duty models and General Motors' revamped Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Both GM and Ford saw average transaction prices on their full-size pickups rise last month, while FCA's fell year over year - a bad sign."
Low-margin fleet sales represented 28% of FCA's total U.S. sales in January. Of even greater concern is the fact that ... (more >>>)
Where Does All That Dollar Store Stuff Come From? China mostly. Much of the subassembly work for multi-piece merchandise is cottage-industry-produced.
"The Futian market is enormous. It is made up thousands of little stalls scattered through four interconnected buildings. Estimates put its size at around 43 million square feet. That's about ten times bigger than the Mall of America."
It is, in a way, like a more organized, market-driven version of 19th Century America - a nation full of cottage industries. In those days, American men and women often had work-at-home side gigs, making things like turned wooden cabinet knobs or doing contract sewing or weaving, as subcontractors for larger firms.
In today's China: "Neighboring towns are all producing different items, and all have their specialties. One town might make plastic Santas while another makes costume jewelry. Most of the production is being carried out by very small operations out of places like a family garage or basement using small pieces of industrial equipment. Sometimes it is as simple as a little sewing machine, or a device that sets metal into a mold.
After the item is created, it will often be taken to some other town for packaging. For many people in the Zhejiang province, this isn't even their full-time job. Often these businesses are simply side ventures that people operate at night after long days working on nearby farms."
Where Illegals Live: Most of the United States' 11.1 million illegal immigrants live in just 20 major metropolitan areas. By far, the biggest unauthorized immigrant populations were in the New York and Los Angeles metro areas (1.2 million and 1 million, respectively).
In the Pacific Northwest, only Seattle made the top 20 list, coming in at number 16. Illegal immigrants now account for about one-in-four foreign-born U.S. residents.
Quote Of The Day is from the late, nine-times married actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor: "Husbands are like campfires. They go out at night when left unattended."
Friday February 10, 2017
Pricey Halo Cars: Almost every luxury vehicle manufacturer offers a top-of-the-line limousine-like sedan. Sixty years ago, people actually bought them in fair quantities. Today, not so much because the market has moved away from sedans to SUVs.
Into this shrinking mix is tossed the 2017 Cadillac CT6, which - inexplicably - comes standard with a four-cylinder engine. Timothy Cain recently test one fitted with a more appropriate twin-turbo V6, making 404 horsepower and fitted to an eight-speed automatic. The Cadillac CT6 3.0TT Luxury model is priced north of $75,000.
For that kind of money, it should have a better moniker than CT6. I would suggest something like ... (more >>>)
Top Of The World: In the U.S., Volkswagen is a scandal-plagued minor player in the auto business, with about 2% of the overall light vehicle market.
Worldwide, however, it's a different story. Volkswagen was the world's top-selling automaker in 2016, growing 3.8% to 10,312,400 vehicles. Toyota came in a close second, selling 10,213,486 units, growing 1.3% from 2015. General Motors was third at 9,965,238 - also growing 1.3%. Renault-Nissan was fourth, selling 9,961,347 units - a whopping 16.8% increase over 2015.
The Perils Of Collecting: Jack Baruth wrote recently, "The Boomers were the engine behind a Golden Era Of Antiques, denizens of an economic and spiritual paradise who nevertheless couldn't stop looking backwards at their perfected childhoods. ("If you want to be really authentic about nostalgia for the Seventies," one wag wrote a while ago, "You have to get your head around the idea that much of the Seventies consists of nostalgia for the Fifties.")
It would be easy to laugh at them and the way they inflated the prices of everything from a 1959 Les Paul to a 1970 Chevelle to the stratosphere - but didn't I, the enlightened Gen-Xer who believes in nothing, just pay serious money for two reproductions of BMX bicycles from 1986? Yes I did. So the ground beneath my feet on this issue is more like shifting sand."
Many of my friends are pre-Boomers - born just before or during the war years. They collect ... (more >>>)
Farewell, Packy: The oldest male Asian elephant in North America, Packy, was euthanized at the Oregon Zoo yesterday at age 54. He had been suffering from drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Packy was the first elephant born in the western hemisphere in 44 years. He made headlines around the world and was featured in an 11-page spread in 'Life' magazine. Packy's parents were both born in the wild, Belle in Thailand around 1952 and Thonglaw in Cambodia about 1947. Belle and Thonglaw were captured and brought to Seattle's Zoo before being transferred to what was then the Portland Zoo.
The year of Packy's birth the zoo set an attendance record of 1 million visitors - for Portlanders, he became an animal icon. At a height of over 12 feet, Packy was also one of the tallest elephants in the United States.
Bad Pun Of The Day: A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France resulting in Linoleum Blownapart.
Wednesday February 8, 2017
Give Me One Good Reason To Buy One: Dan Neil recently reviewed the 2017 Jaguar XF35t sedan. In 2015, Jaguar - an attempt to build sales - cut prices on certain Jag models "by as much as 10%, resetting them against the German incumbents and aspirant marques like Volvo, Infiniti and Cadillac. This addressed the first headwind in the market, which was that the cars were wildly overpriced." The firm also offered a five-year, 60,000 mile warranty to allay fears about Jaguar reliability - something which as been a thorn in its side for decades.
Cutting prices and adding an SUV have helped Jaguar's sales increase faster than Megyn Kelly's sense of self-importance.
Dan found his $65,000 AWD test car to be fine at first glance. "But my issue with the XF isn't about the hard stuff but the soft. The seat upholstery is all leather, yes; but the hides, sewing and fitting are pretty undistinguished. The brightwork around switches, the lacquer-like fascia of the console and center stack, the stippled metallic trim on dash and doors - these procurements don't quite the match the richness of a competitive-set Lexus or BMW.
Going down-market is fine, as long as the seams don't show." But they do: "The graceful 'Riva' line at the scuttle, once wood, is now rendered in resin."
People used to buy Jags because of their quality leather hides, real wood interiors and all the little fine details, which separated them from the functional but Teutonic-plain German competitors. Now that these special touches have gone by the wayside, there are fewer compelling reasons to buy a Jag. Except The Deal.
Book Review: 'The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism' by Yuval Levin
I wish that I could say something positive about this book. Sadly, it is boring and pointless. The subtitle suggests that ... (more >>>)
Headline Of The Week ... so far, is from The People's Cube: 'Trump signs executive order making California and New York national monuments; residents have two days to vacate'.
Don't Change A Good Thing: Once upon a time, there was a restaurant in downtown Vancouver named Charlie's Bistro. My wife and I patronized it almost weekly. This establishment offered above-par casual American cuisine carefully prepared and well-presented. The wood-accented decor was warm and inviting.
According to our waiter, the place was making a good profit but the owner was bored and wanted a change. So, he remodeled it with more casual and downscale decor and changed it into a tapas and whiskey bar called Charlie's Bodega. We took one look at the bare floors and stark menu and said, "No, thanks."
Charlie's Bodega has now closed. I'm not surprised.
If you want to succeed in the restaurant business, there are eight things you must do.
A March I'd Look Forward To: Tom McMahon ponders, "Would it be too much to ask to have One Million Simply Irresistible Dancers descend upon Washington DC for Robert Palmer Day?"
Quote Of The Day is from Mae West: "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."
Monday February 6, 2017
Before The Storm: It was cold Thursday - 36 degrees at 11:00 am. And windy. After returning home from a routine visit to the doctor in my warm Lexus with heated seats and steering wheel, I hopped in my dead cold '39 Plymouth coupe and took a drive. The Plymouth's primitive heater never really warmed up and, at the end of the ride, my hands were like ice. Shoulda worn gloves.
Despite the chill, I had a great drive. The sun was mostly out, although there were duvets of clouds covering sections of the sky. I could easily spot snow-covered Mt. St. Helens to the north and the tops of the Cascades in the distant east.
Good thing I took my drive when I did. The ice/freezing-rain began Thursday night.
January Auto Sales: U.S. light vehicle sales were at a 17.5 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) in January, up about 2% from January 2016, and down 5% from last month. Strong retail incentives helped keep momentum going in this overheated market but Toyota and Fiat-Chrytsler really felt the pain.
General Motors posted total January U.S. sales of 195,909 vehicles, a decrease of 4% compared with January 2016. Retail deliveries fell 5 points for the month to 155,010 million units. Sales of the company's top-selling Silverado pickup fell by 6% to 35,553 units, while GMC Sierra sales slipped 5% to 13,732 units. Sales of the Colorado midsize pickup rose 16% to 6,413 units.
Cadillac retail sales increased 1% in January to 10,298 units. Total Chevrolet deliveries decreased by 2% to 135,170 units; retail sales fell 5% to 103,808 units. Buick sales declined a whopping 28% in January.
Ford Motor Co. reported a U.S. sales decrease of less than 1% year-over-year in January, to 172,612 Ford and Lincoln vehicles. Ford truck sales rose 6% for the month, and sales of F-Series pickups increased by 12%. The Ford F-Series was America's top truck line and the top-selling new vehicle overall. Sales of the Lincoln brand rose 22% year over year in January, as sales of Lincoln cars jumped 32%, helped by the all-new Lincoln Continental (1,167 units sold in January). Car sales totaled 3,277 units in the month and utility vehicle sales totaled 5,508 units.
January sales dropped 11% at Fiat-Chrysler to 152,218 units. Overall, passenger car and minivan sales were down 30% year over year, utility vehicle sales were down 6% and total truck and light commercial vehicle sales rose 5%.
The Jeep brand posted a sales drop of 7% to 58,415 units; the Jeep Compass showed a year-over-year sales decline of 50% and the Patriot posted a sales drop of 45%. Grand Cherokee sales rose 24% and Renegade sales increased by 52%.
Ram pickup sales increased 4% in January to 33,769 units. Sales of the Chrysler brand dropped a incredible 39% and sales of the Chrysler 300 fell 17%. Dodge brand sales fell 17% year over year in January. Fiat sold 2,164 units last month - a decline of 9%. Alfa only sold 108 vehicles in January; the pricey Bentley outsold it by 37%.
Toyota sales dropped 9% to 127,476 vehicles, while Lexus sales fell 26% to 15,572 vehicles. Avalon sales were down 30% and Camry sales dropped 24%. Only 280 Lexus LS flagship sedans found buyers last month - a drop of 30%. All Lexus cars experienced large declines - 41% on average. Sales of the GS sedan fell 68% to 422 units. Lexus SUV sales dropped 15%.
Honda brand sales were up 78%, while Acura sales fell 10%. The Honda Civic was America's best-selling car in January 2017; its CR-V sibling led all utility vehicles. Nissan sales increased 4%, while Infiniti sales jumped 36% to 11,558 vehicles. Mazda sales increased 10% to 21,698 vehicles. Volkswagen sales increased 17% to 23,510 vehicles. Subaru sales were up 7% to 43,879 units. Hyundai sales fell 1%, while Kia dropped 7%. Volvo sales fell 18% to 3,472 vehicles.
Jaguar sales leaped 117% to 2,939 kitties. Mercedes sales were up 4% to 27,576 vehicles (boosted by a 27% C-Class increase), establishing a clear lead over BMW - its sales were flat at 18,109 vehicles. Audi sold 13,201 vehicles - a rise of 11%. Maserati sales increased 69% to 889 cars.
Smart is quickly becoming the King Midget of the 21st Century; only 324 little cars were sold in January - a drop of 19%.
There's No Accounting For Taste: I always believed that my aesthetic judgment had improved with age. Then, I found a car drawing I had made when I was in 8th grade (1957). I cleaned it up and colorized it ... (more >>>)
Not Bad For Six Cylinders: The new Ford GT, powered by a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 647 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, has a top speed of 216 mph.
The War On Poverty Is Being Won: Oxford economist Max Roser, founder of the Our World in Data project, provides compelling evidence for that claim. Rather than focusing on today's noise, he and his team look at data to pursue the question, “How are things changing?”
One of his most striking charts concerns extreme poverty. “Extreme poverty” is defined as living on the equivalent of $1.90/day or less, an amount that's adjusted to account for non-monetary income (trading for carrots), cost of living across time and so on. Here's the picture ... (more >>>)
Super Bowl LI: Or fifty-one, if you're not conversant in Roman numerals. At the half, with the Falcons ahead 28-3, I thought the Patriots were doomed but what a comeback: 34-28. It was the first Super Bowl to go into overtime. Lady Gaga gave a spectacular performance with patriotic overtones - one which I could sort-of understand - the first time the halftime show wasn't incomprehensible in - what? - five years? Ten years?
Compared with prior years, the commercials - in general - sucked. I liked the Terry Bradshaw 'trending stain' for Tide. The TurboTax Humpty Dumpty spot was amusing. But the Audi soapbox derby commercial was downright insulting - promoting a statistically unsupportable Inequality-for-Women meme.
I didn't like the pro-immigrant Budweiser spot because it was based on a lie. Adolphus Busch, who came to America in the 1850s, was no hated, penniless immigrant. He was from a fairly well-to-do, successful family. Unlike my Irish forebearers, each of whom arrived with the clothes on his/her back and about ten bucks in cash. Don't forget that Anheuser-Busch is no longer an American beer. The company was bought by InBev, a Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate, in 2008.
If those expensive Alfa spots had been eliminated, Alfa could then have cut the price of its cars by more than two-thirds, given that they only sell 100 or so per month in the U.S.
Quip Of The Day: If Pride comes before a Fall, Humility should come by Winter.
Thursday February 2, 2017
The Price Of Things: Dan Neil reviewed "a sumptuously equipped, nail-polish-red 2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Wagon," which stickered at $87,770. I was stunned by that dollar amount but, don't worry, it's just me. I'm still coming to grips with the fact that a fairly-pedestrian Ford Explorer in Platinum trim is priced somewhere north of $55,000.
The Merc is powered by a three-liter twin-turbo V6 which produces 329 horsepower. And, it's fast for a wagon: "Initial acceleration to 60 mph takes less than 6 seconds - the gears ticking off rhythmically while your corgis bark, squashed against the hatch rear glass. A bright snore of an exhaust rasp will be permitted here, Mein Herr."
It's another step on the road to self-driving vehicles. "Drift out of your lane and the Mercedes will alert you and gently correct your caroming. Doze and it will wake you. Fail to brake for slowed traffic ahead and the car will warn you; if you still take no action (a long text?), it will begin braking to avoid collision. Swerve as if to crowd a nearby vehicle, and it will warn you, then gently resist your steering input, electronically tugging at the wheel as if it were your sleeve. No judgies. Just helping.
By virtue of its sensor array and multi-wavelength vision, the big Merc car also endows its drivers with better reflexes and farther sight, especially at night. According to Mercedes’ engineers, the car is able to detect cross-traffic on a collision course - a car running a stop sign, for example - and will begin braking and bracing for impact before the driver even registers the threat.
A pedestrian suddenly steps off the curb. By the time the driver reflexively wrenches the wheel to avoid, the E400 will have already calculated the ideal brake and steering response to augment the driver's likely inputs, modeled over years of behavioral research."
The future is arriving. And, to me, it's a little frightening. And expensive.
Winner: America's Most Beautiful Roadster for 2017 is the gorgeous Mulholland Speedster, a custom hot rod with a retractable metal roof, inspired by a 1936 Packard.
It was constructed by Hollywood Hot Rods and was displayed at the 68th Annual Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California. It is powered by a supercharged flathead Lincoln V12 engine. Unlike some overdone customs, which are as gaudy as Liberace's Christmas decorations, this one is understated and gorgeous.
Now Poorer People Can Have Neck Cramps, Too: Audi is planning to bring its slopey four-door coupe downmarket.
"Audi will offer the next-generation A3 in just such a configuration, slotted alongside a sedan and five-door Sportback. The automaker apparently wants to target premium-minded A3 buyers who don't want to (or can't) pay much more to look the part." Why should rich passengers be the only ones to suffer sore necks from the lack of rear-seat headroom?
Fifty-Eight Years Later: I still remember the day; I was a sophomore in high school. On February 3, 1959, I heard the news on the morning radio: Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper had perished in a plane crash. They were quickly declared Rock's First Martyrs.
Every time I hear the phrase The Day The Music Died, I get quite irritated. Because it didn't. I know of no one who piloted his/her Chevrolet to any sort of levee and found it to be without water. The Music didn't die. Because The Music consisted of a large galaxy with several high-luminosity pop giant stars (Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, etc.) and hundreds of very talented dwarf stars (Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Lloyd Price, Frankie Avalon, Sam Cooke, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Rydell, Dion, Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Pitney, Fats Domino, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Ben E. King, Paul Anka, Gene McDaniels, Del Shannon, Bobby Lewis and many, many more).
Make no mistake about it - the three Fallen Idols were in the smaller star category. Buddy Holly had several hits but his career had been in decline ever since he abandoned the Crickets and went solo. (He signed on for the grueling winter tour because he needed the money.)
Richie Valens produced only a couple of chartmakers. J.P. Richardson (aka - The Big Bopper) was - at the time of his death - a one-hit wonder. I intend no putdown of these gentlemen or their talents; I have several of Buddy Holly's songs in my iTunes library and know all the words to The Bopper's 'Chantilly Lace'.
But all are remembered today primarily because ... (more >>>)
Can California Be Saved? Roger Simon wonders if gay Republican Peter Thiel can save California by becoming governor.
Roger wrote, "Back in the sixties and seventies when the Mamas and the Papas recorded 'California Dreamin' and The Beach Boys were wishing us 'Good Vibrations' and Hollywood was making movies like 'The Godfather' and 'Chinatown', I thought my adopted city - L.A. - was the center of the known universe and a good portion of the unknown universe as well. Now … not so much."
In the 1950s and '60s, California was perceived as ... (more >>>)
Is There Anything A Bag Of Chips Can't Do? Tostitos, the corn chip giant, has developed a special bag that can detect if you've had too much to drink. If it does, a red steering wheel and the words "Don't Drink and Drive" appear on the bag. If no alcohol is detected, a green circle appears instead.
"If it decides you've been drinking - regardless of how much - an image of a red steering wheel appears on the otherwise stark black bag along with a reminder not to drive and a code for a $10 Uber discount (valid only on Super Bowl Sunday).
And if you've had so much to drink that the mere act of hailing an Uber becomes a difficult chore, the bag will even do that for you. The package is equipped with near-field communication technology that will automatically order a ride when tapped with a smartphone." This is as disturbing as an evil clown throwing cyanide pies at people.
I'm waiting for a chip bag that can tell when you've run out of booze and automatically place an order with a liquor store that delivers. Just make sure the Frito Bandito doesn't steal your order.
Book Review: 'In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox' by Carol Burnett
In this book, Carol Burnett reveals the backstory of her successful, Emmy-winning (25 of 'em) weekly variety show which ran from 1967 to 1978. 'The Carol Burnett Show' was one of the last comedy/variety shows on television, following in the footsteps of iconic 1950s shows from Sid Caesar, Milton Bearle, Gary Moore and others.
If you are a fan of the talented Ms. Burnett and ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from Rob O'Neill (the man who killed Bin Laden) on 'Mad Dog': "General Mattis has a bear rug in his home; but it is not dead, it is just afraid to move."
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