Friday October 30, 2009
Undistinguished: On Wednesday, I spotted a 2010 Lexus HS 250 h hybrid sedan pulling into the Lexus dealer in Eugene, OR. While it looks better in person than in still photos, it is unremarkable. It lacks the 'L-finesse' design language Lexus has used to create a cohesive and unique image in its other vehicles. The exterior styling of the HS has a nondescript, Toyota Corolla air about it. It's not an entry-level car either. Decently optioned, the HS 250 h costs close to $45,000.
If I wanted a hybrid, I think I'd go with the Toyota Prius. It has its own quirky look, so that the world will know that you're a Greenie. I'd take the money saved over the Lexus hybrid and spend it on wheatgrass juice, tofu and Birkenstocks. And one of those old-hippie-guy headscarves. And grow a beard.
Yeah, that's the ticket.
Will It Last? Consumer Reports has released results from its twice-a-year reliability survey, noting: "Ford has made major gains to place itself among or ahead the most reliable Japanese brands."
CR reported that 90% of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products scored average or better reliability. "Other than the Toyota Prius, the reliability of the 4-cylinder Fusion and Milan ranks higher than that of any other family sedan. Both of those Ford Motor Company products continue to beat the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, while the upscale Lincoln MKZ tops its rivals, the Acura TL and Lexus ES."
The flagship Lincoln MKS sedan (in both FWD and AWD versions) is an unreliable dog, so are the Jag XF, BMW 535i, X3 and 135i as well as the Lexus GS AWD.
"The least reliable vehicle, the Volkswagen Touareg, is 27 times more likely to have a problem than the most reliable car, the Honda Insight." Almost as dismal as the Touareg were the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon 4WD pickups. Not being a truck guy, I had never heard of the Canyon. Is it anything like the Canyonero on The Simpsons?
A quarter of GM models are still well below average in reliability. "Some that didn't fare well are fairly new designs that did well in our testing, such as the Cadillac CTS and the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook SUV triplets."
Chrysler's offerings made a very dismal showing. "More than one-third of Chrysler products are much worse than average, including its new car-based SUV, the Dodge Journey." The most reliable Chrysler model offered is the ancient, soon-to-be-killed-off PT Cruiser. It is rated Dead Average. No irony intended.
The least reliable vehicles had Chrysler badges, followed by Cadillac, Dodge and Jeep emblems.
Paper Loss: The decline in U.S. newspaper circulation has accelerated as the industry struggles with subscriber defections to the Internet and tumbling ad revenue.
New data released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that average daily circulation dropped 10.6% in last six months from the same period last year. That was greater than the 7.1% decline six-months previously and the 4.6% drop before that.
What does all this mean? ... (more >>>)
Only In Eugene, Oregon ... can you experience a zero emissions trip to the grave - in a bicycle hearse.
Quote Of The Day is from Pliny the Elder: "The only certainty is that nothing is certain."
Wednesday October 28, 2009
In All Fairness ... if I'm going to make fun of the Chevrolet Camaro for taking seemingly forever to go from a concept car to production, I should give similar raspberries to the Lexus LFA, which was first "unveiled" at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show.
Well, the production version was finally introduced this month at the Tokyo Motor Show. Plunk down $375,000 and you can have one of the 500 examples in your garage sometime in 2011.
The specifications of this new rear-drive Lexus supercar are impressive enough: 4.8-liter V10 with 552 horsepower, 0-60 times of less than 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 202 mph. But the white example on display in Tokyo looked too much like an Imperial stormtrooper helmet to my old eyes.
Tow Truck Operators Rejoice! The Wall Street Journal has reported, "Four months after exiting bankruptcy, Chrysler Group LLC is about to unveil a product road map that relies heavily on vehicles from Italian partner Fiat SpA while abandoning many of the U.S. car maker's own models." The article noted that "the majority of the Dodge and Chrysler lineups will be reworked atop Fiat platforms, save the rear-wheel drive architecture of the Dodge Charger/Challenger and Chrysler 300."
Six months ago I wrote that Americans overwhelmingly buy mid-size cars (Accord, Camry, Altima, Fusion, Malibu, Sebring), typically 190 inches long. Chrysler needs something to replace its woeful Sebring; Fiat does not make a mid-sized, moderately priced car. The Italian firm's expertise is in less-than-170-inch-long minicars.
The popular compact budget models (Civic, Corolla, Fusion, Cobalt, etc.) are about 180 inches in length. Fiat has nothing to offer in that size range except expensive (and therefore, uncompetitive) Alfas and Lancias.
The cute little Fiat 500 may appeal to some but ... (more >>>)
Scary Times: The big paper mill in Albany, OR - just up the road from where my plastics manufacturing business was once located - is closing down forever. The remaining 230 employees will be terminated in December. The fate of the 900-acre mill site itself is unknown. The owner, International Paper, is also permanently closing its paper mill in Franklin, VA and its container-board mill in Pineville, LA.
The Albany facility, which opened in 1955 and was originally owned by Western Kraft, is closing because of a steep decline in the container board industry, namely cardboard box materials. Much of the cardboard used by American producers is now made outside the U.S.
Much of America's exported product is waste paper - shipped to Asia to be converted to cardboard boxes for manufactured goods for export back to the United States. America's largest exporter, in terms of volume via container, is American Chung Nam, Inc. In a year, the Chinese company typically exports over 200,000 containers of waste paper to its Chinese sister company, Nine Dragons Paper Industries.
When manufacturing disappears from America ... (more >>>)
Obama, Get Your Hand Outta My Pocket: Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported "that the Obama administration moved to tighten the screws on private plans offered under Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, recently unveiled stricter terms for insurers offering the so-called Medicare Advantage plans, taking effect next year, and will effectively cut payments to them. ... The payment cuts could mean monthly premium increases for beneficiaries of between $40 and $70, or the equivalent in benefit reductions, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association."
Well, we have just been notified that our Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield Medicare Advantage plan is increasing a whopping 45.5% increase for 2010 - a $110 additional monthly deduction from our household budget. Actually, it's going to be substantially more than that because many of the deductibles/co-pays have increased and benefits have been curtailed.
Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, has written, "For nearly a half century, Medicare has enabled seniors to get that care. But ObamaCare is about to change that, by limiting what doctors can provide their aging patients.
The Senate Finance Committee health bill released last week controls doctors by cutting their pay if they give older patients more care than the government deems appropriate. Section 3003(b) (p. 683) punishes doctors who land in the 90th percentile or above on what they provide for seniors on Medicare by withholding 5 percent of their compensation.
This withhold provision forces doctors to choose between treating their patients and avoiding government penalties. HMOs used the same cost-cutting device in the early '90s until it was deemed dangerous to patients and outlawed. Now, lawmakers want to use it against the most vulnerable patients, the elderly. This bill and four others under negotiation also would slash about $500 billion from future Medicare funding."
These actions may be the beginning of a government expropriation program targeting the elderly. The Nazis initiated such a program in early 1938 against the Jews.
The pogroms began six months later.
Unexpected Results: The New York Times has reported that "the Walt Disney Company is now offering refunds for all those 'Baby Einstein' videos that did not make children into geniuses. They may have been a great electronic baby sitter, but the unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect."
Baby Einstein, founded in 1997, was one of the earliest players in what became a huge electronic media market for babies and toddlers.
Many of the babies exposed to the videos grew unruly white hair and bushy mustaches.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "How long will it be before the public gets tired of the little know-it-all sermonettes by Barack Obama - especially since nothing that he is doing is actually working?"
Monday October 26, 2009
The Death Of Loyalty: In the 1980s, nearly four in five Americans were auto-brand loyal. There were Ford men, Buick families, etc.
Such loyalty as mostly disappeared, due to fickle consumer tastes, increased offerings in the marketplace (hello Hyundai, Kia, Scion. Lexus, Infiniti, etc.) and industry turmoil, especially in Detroit.
So far this year, only about 20% of car shoppers stayed with the same brand when they purchased a new vehicle, according to a study by the Oregon-based firm CNW Marketing Research.
James Farley, Ford Motor Company VP of Marketing and Communications, has said, "Brand loyalty has shrunk because of widespread improvements in the products. The 'trust factor' is more or less the same for most cars. ... I can't tell you how many car clubs I have been to where they own old Mustangs and vintage T-Birds, but they drive Camrys."
Brand heritage has little or no value to today's customer - it's just wistful nostalgia.
"Hyundai has carved out a 4% share of the American market because its vehicles are less expensive than Toyota's but are perceived as just as reliable," said Art Spinella of CNW Marketing Research.
There's little auto brand loyalty in our household. We buy whatever is appropriate for us at the time. I love my Lexus LS 460 but, if it disappeared tomorrow, I'd have to give the V-8 Hyundai Genesis a serious look - and think about pocketing the $40,000 or so savings over a new LS.
How Not To Start A Business: Regular readers know that I'm a fan of small business and would probably enjoy traveling back in time and having a cocktail with George F. Babbitt at a plush hotel bar in downtown Zenith whilst discussing Boosterism. As someone who has owned and successfully operated a few small businesses, I always want new ones to succeed. I'm a fan. Sometimes though, you can't save them from themselves.
Recently, I read an article about a new business in my area - a model train hobby shop, no less - which is less than five miles from my house. It has been open for three months. I drive past its location almost every day yet I had no idea it even existed. I'm a model train enthusiast and try to keep current on the hobby. But I had heard nary a peep about this new store.
While I wish this new establishment the best of luck, I fear that it won't make it. This firm suffers from six major problems ... (more >>>)
On The Other Hand ... if you want to learn the right way to start a business, go here.
No Surprise Here: Mark Steyn has written, "A famously fair-minded centrist told me the other day that he'd been taken aback by some of the near parodic examples of leftie radicalism discovered in the White House in recent weeks. I don't know why he'd be surprised.
When a man has spent his entire adult life in the “community organized” precincts of Chicago, it should hardly be news that much of his Rolodex is made up of either loons or thugs. The trick is identifying who falls into which category."
Headline Of The Week ... is from The Onion: 'Majority Of Newspapers Now Purchased By Kidnappers To Prove Date'. Excerpt: "According to a report published this week in American Journalism Review, 93% of all newspaper sales can now be attributed to kidnappers seeking to prove the day's date in filmed ransom demands."
"Although the vast majority of Americans now get their news from the Internet or television, a small but loyal criminal element still purchases newspapers at a steady rate," study author and Columbia journalism professor Linus Ridell said. "These are sick, sick individuals," Ridell added. "God bless them for saving our industry." (permalink)
A Blogger's Prayer: Gerard Van der Leun has posted 27 Daily Affirmations for bloggers including: "I have accepted the fact that the only thing BlogAds, Google Adsense Ads, Federated Media Ads, and the PayPal Donation button have given me are slower loading times." And: "Joan of Arc heard voices too, but she was wise enough to have herself set on fire before she logged on."
Definition Of The Day is for 'Chickens': The only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead.
Friday October 23, 2009
Worth Every Cent: Hemmings has posted photos of a gorgeous burgundy 1948 Chrysler Town and Country convertible for sale for $100,000. Generally, these cars are even more stunning in person than in pictures. Shipping may be a problem, though.
Automotive Depreciation: Troubled Asset Relief Program inspector Neil Barofsky has released his latest report to Congress. He said that taxpayers are unlikely to ever get their investments in GM and Chrysler back.
"Chrysler's sales problems are so severe that some auto industry analysts believe that the company cannot make it. The government's $49 billion investment in GM will only be returned should GM's "market cap" goes above $100 billion if the company goes public again. That would mean that GM would have to be worth nearly as much as Toyota."
Less Tax Money = Less Waste: I've written before about the many sightings of C-Tran running mostly-empty buses on routes throughout the area. Now there will be fewer of them.
"Clark County's bus system is cutting back on low-ridership routes starting in January to help close a $6 million budget gap caused by the recession." Why? "Sales taxes make up 60 percent of the system's operating budget, but have fallen because of the prolonged downturn." (permalink)
Worth A Read: J.B. Williams has written an excellent opinion piece, 'The American Makes Endangered Species List'.
Excerpt: "Welfare is not an act of personal generosity. It is a political strategy for gaining and holding power. Charity requires the consent of the giver, without which, it's tyranny, not charity. ... So long as American citizens continue to choose the life of a parasite, free-feeding upon the benefits earned by others, they will continue to vote their feeders into power. For a time, this will seem a fantastic victory for the 'have-nots' until the atrophy of individual survival skills sets in, and the 'haves' opt out, leaving the feeding trough empty." See also 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand.
Why do some of the best U.S. policy articles appear only in the Canada Free Press?
Travel Broadens The Mind: Greg Gutfeld visited his old alma mater, UC Berkeley. He reported, "The city itself is as delightful as ever a mix of fall leaves, bright sun and tramp feces."
It's Only Money: Bank of America Corp. lost more than $2 billion in the third quarter as loan losses kept rising, providing further evidence that consumers are still struggling to pay their bills.
BofA has a massive portfolio of credit-card loans. "The bank has about 53 million consumer and small business customers, making it vulnerable to delinquencies and defaults. Bank of America's global card services unit loss widened significantly to $1.04 billion from $167 million a year ago.
The loss in the bank's home loans and insurance division grew to $1.6 billion from $54 million a year ago, as credit costs continued to rise."
This is probably why my BofA-issued Visa card keeps getting randomly declined and I get transferred to a clueless moron in the Fraud Alert Department. I think BofA wants to dump me because we routinely pay our bills on time, despite an ever-shortening 'grace period'.
Of course, the big banks run Congress ... so, I guess they'd rather pick on me instead of Barney Frank or Chrissy Dodd. Those bozos probably never have to talk with the Fraud Alert Department.
At least the gummint is making BofA's top execs take a big pay cut, even if it's just for publicity purposes - gotta keep those Obama approval ratings from sinking even further, ya know. Plus, he got to appoint still-another czar - a Pay Czar.
I should be happy that it will make life unpleasant for all those executive recipients of bailouts - that'll teach 'em to dance with the devil, etc. But this whole arbitrary czar-power thing seems un-American.
Startin' to feel like Russia around here.
Where Did All The Money Go? If you're having trouble understanding how the financial crisis happened, here is an excellent, illustrated explanation.
Headline of the Moment ... is from from Jay Leno: 'President Obama orders 40,000 more U.S. troops committed to the fight against Fox News.'
Oh No: Soupy Sales has died at age 83. In the early 1960s, the rubber-faced comedian acquired a cult-like following among college students (like me) with a show ostensibly meant for children.
His signature routine, which he elevated to an art form, was pie-throwing. Who could forget White Fang, the biggest and meanest dog in the USA, and his canine friend, Black Tooth?
Rest in peace, Soupy.
Coincidence? Or What!? Peter Paul Reubens painted great, fleshy mounds. Peter Paul Mounds tastes great after a Reuben sandwich. (permalink)
Department Of Irony: Recoil Magazine headline reads, 'Suicide note written using free Zoloft promotional pen'.
Quote Of The Day is from Mark Twain: "Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."
Wednesday October 21, 2009
Kinda Says It All: A Buick LaCrosse ad is the back cover of the latest issue of AARP magazine.
The average age of Buick owners is now 70-plus.
Car Sighting: Vancouver, WA is chock full of Hyundias, Kias, Hondas, Toyotas and Subarus.
So, it was quite a treat Tuesday when I spotted a Stratus White Aston Martin V8 Vantage (with Oregon plates) turning into a residential area near 162nd and Fourth Plain.
It looked awesome ... even in the rain.
Is There A Prius Discount? Part of Berlin's red-light scene is going green.
One brothel, Maison d'Envie (House of Desire), is hoping to stave off falling demand in the economic crisis by offering a 5 Euro discount to customers who pedal bicycles to the door.
He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins. Donald Kaufman, former vice president of K-B Toys, whose collection of antique toy cars and trucks was once one of the largest and most valuable in the world, died last week at 79.
Kaufman's trove included a highly prized German-made 1912 Märklin live-steam fire engine that sold in September for $149,500.
A 26 inch-long 1960s Japanese tin 'Atomic Jet' friction-powered streamlined racer brought $21,850.
I wrote about one of Mr. Kaufman's other toys here.
How Slums Begin: A plan to increase the number of bikeways throughout Portland, OR has some downtown business owners worried that it'll drive even more people away. Many retailers pointed out the current exodus underway from downtown and they worry about the future of downtown if businesses don't feel like they can survive.
The owners of Flowers by Dorcas said the plan reaffirms their decision to relocate out of downtown. "As a matter of fact one of the reasons we are moving is our customers complain with the lack of parking, the gridlock, and the construction. They don't come downtown anymore," said co-owner Gerhard Watzig.
When we first moved to this area 20 years ago ... (more >>>)
World's Shortest Book: During a recent visit to Costco, I discovered that investment bozo Jim Cramer has a new book out: 'Getting Back To Even'. I didn't read it but I assume it's two sentences long: Build a time machine. Go back in time and do the opposite of whatever Cramer said.
Actually, you'll probably do a lot better than break even with such a strategy. (permalink)
Happy Belated Birthday ... to the Vanguard Wellington Fund, which turned 80 in July. It has weathered the 1929 Crash, the Great Depression, the inflation of the 1970s and the turmoil of today, returning 8% per year since its beginning. A $10,000 stake in this mutual fund at inception would be worth $4.8 million today. From 1978 to 2008, Wellington Fund saw average annual returns of 11.5%.
It's a stable, conservative investment with a decent and fairly steady dividend payout. My grandmother owned Wellington shares in the late 1950s. As I grew older, I began buying shares in the fund and have no regrets about my investment.
This Guy's Goin' To Jail ... then he's goin' to Hell: The headline reads 'Man steals Virgin Mary painting to pay for abortion for girl he raped.' "In one of the most "evil" crimes a prosecutor said she had seen, Aurelio Vallecillo-Sanchez stole a centuries-old painting of the Virgin Mary in the hopes of selling it to fund an abortion for the 14-year-old girl he had raped."
Judge Joseph Troia sentenced the Omaha man to 30 to 40 years for the sexual assault and 10 to 20 years for the theft of 'The Virgin Immaculata', a painting that St. Cecilia Cathedral officials valued at $100,000. Vallecillo-Sanchez was suspected of stealing dozens of pieces of religious artwork from at least five area churches.
Vallecillo-Sanchez reportedly told officials that he didn't feel guilt over the theft of the paintings because he was "away from religion at the time."
Quote Of The Day is from Philip K. Dick: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
Monday October 19, 2009
Thanks For Nuttin': Just as Rush Limbaugh was punked by the NFL last week, I was taken in by Lincoln.
A few weeks ago, I received a mailing from Ford Motor Company to "attend a star-studded event at your local Lincoln dealer ... on Thursday, October 15. And when you complete a test-drive, a $20 donation will be made to Susan G. Komen for the Cure by your Lincoln Dealer. This will be THE event of the season. Make sure you attend."
Food and drink were promised.
I called the local Lincoln dealer - Dick Hanna Motors in Vancouver - and was assured by a salesman that they were having an event - beginning "at 6:00 pm ... no, wait ... 5:00 pm." We arrived at 5:40 pm. There was not a single Lincoln in the showroom - only Subarus - and no one knew anything about any Lincoln event.
"We have no 2010 Lincolns on the premises ... because Lincoln sales are so low," said Kamal Chaer, Lincoln-Mercury-Subaru Sales Manager. "We know nothing of such an event."
A wasted trip. I thought I could salvage the excursion by going across the street to look at the new Buicks but - alas - the former Buick-Nissan store now sells only Nissans. I could have walked next door to the Saturn dealer and yelled, "I smell death!" but that seemed mean-spirited. So I took my wife out to dinner instead.
We'll never buy anything from Dick Hanna - ever. Or Lincoln. Rush probably feels the same way about the NFL.
Update: After I complained to FoMoCo Media, I received this from Kate Pearce, Flex/MKT Marketing Manager: "On behalf of Lincoln, I want to sincerely apologize for your experience at Dick Hanna Motors during our Star Studded Evening event.
We ask all dealers to participate in events such as these and work to provide them with the tools necessary to create events you will enjoy. However, dealerships are not required to participate and we are sorry to hear that your experience did not live up to your, or our expectations."
I think Ms. Pearce's job title speaks volumes about the handling of the Lincoln brand. But at least she wrote back.
No response from that lying SOB Hanna. (permalink)
Many Ways To Say 'Unattractive': Jeremy Clarkson has critiqued the style of the new Porsche Panamera sedan: "It's as ugly as an inside-out monkey ... it looks like someone with no talent at all was trying to describe what they wanted to a blind person, over the phone."
He continued, "I actually wonder sometimes whether Porsche employs a stylist at all. Plainly, it had some bloke back in the Thirties, when Hitler created the ancestor of the 911, and it had someone else in the Seventies and Eighties, when it was making the wondrous 928 (the 944 wasn't bad either), but today, God knows who's in charge. Someone who, I suspect, has never been to art school."
Clarkson concluded, "It makes Quasimodo look like George Clooney."
Used-to-be Retailing: We live in an age of internet shopping, big box stores, supermarkets and items which cannot be repaired, resized or re-soled.
Consider the street scene in 1937 Darby - a Philadelphia suburb. On a single block, you'd find ... (more >>>)
And Furthermore ... these old shopping districts usually had a toy and hobby shop of some kind. Or a hardware store with a hobby section. In recent years, hobby shops have been disappearing, replaced by internet retailers and hobby chains.
The U.S. toy and hobby store industry includes about 12,000 stores with combined annual revenue of almost $20 billion. The industry is highly concentrated: the top 50 companies (Toys 'R' Us, Michaels) generate about 85% of revenue. Toys account for 25% of sales, games for 20%, and hobby goods and craft supplies for 20%.
But the traditional mom 'n pop hobby store still has its loyalists. Consider Providence Hobbies of Ithaca, NY: the little hobby shop was bailed out by its customers after the state tax seized the place for $4,400 in back sales taxes.
Owner Jeffrey Witty had slowly been working his way out of accumulated debt to keep his hobby shop open during this year's economic downturn. Then two weeks ago, representatives of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance showed up at his store, kicked him out and locked the door.
Several customers proposed that fans of Providence Hobbies donate $50 cash, redeemable later as in-store credit, Witty said. People began contributing to his PayPal account and now Witty is getting his store back.
On the 'Seized' sign posted on the store's window by the state tax department, someone had scrawled, "We bail out (Bank of America) but not the Hobby Shop?" Fair question.
Power to the people.
School 'Safety' Is A Relative Term: Fifty-three House Republicans have written President Barack Obama asking him to remove ''safe schools czar'' Kevin Jennings from that position. The lawmakers accused Jennings of ''pushing a pro-homosexual agenda'' and said that Jennings's past writings exhibit a record that makes him unfit for the position.
Jennings is a former schoolteacher who has advocated promoting homosexuality in schools, written about his past drug abuse, expressed his contempt for religion and "detailed an incident in which he did not report an underage student who told him he was having sex with older men."
Rumor has it that the Obama administration is considering Roman Polanski as Jennings' replacement.
Improbable Celebrity: Here's a nice little tribute to Captain Lou Albano (who died last week at age 76), the wild-eyed wrestling dude I used to watch - long before he was famous - on Channel 12's wrestling show in 1960s Philadelphia.
Excerpt: "Albano ended up being as big as celebrity as (Hulk) Hogan despite the WWF champion's wavy white hair, which he lost over time, and large and well-muscled 305 pound body. The Captain never had a combustible family or he might have taken Hogan's place as a reality TV star.
Albano did end up on wildly popular TV shows like Miami Vice where he played besides handsome and exquisitely well-dressed lead actors who were completely unlike him. ... Marketing executives choose models for print and TV ads that look better than anyone most people know. Albano had a homely charisma, would not dress up for anyone, and didn't let the bigger guys muscle him around. RIP, Captain."
Miscast: Al Martino died last week at 82. I wasn't a big fan, mostly because of his song material. Every one of Al's hits sounded like something Vic Damone and Julius La Rosa had previously rejected.
Martino's performance in the Godfather movies was decent enough but, to me, he was the wrong guy for the part. His character first appeared in the 1945 wedding scene and was supposed to be a Sinatra clone.
In 1945, Frank S. was 30 years old. In the 1972 movie, Martino was 44 and it was a struggle to imagine him as a heartthrob for teenage girls.
It would have been more realistic if 32 year-old Frankie Avalon played the part of Johnny Fontane instead.
Rest in peace, Al.
Headline Of The Week ... so far, is from The People's Cube: 'NFL okays Fidel Castro's bid to buy Miami Dolphins'.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Over the years, unions in the private sector have been declining, while unions in the public sector have been thriving. The United Automobile Workers are getting a big return on their investment in the election of Barack Obama because the government takeover of General Motors makes the UAW more like a public sector union, whose demands can be met at the taxpayers' expense."
Thursday October 15, 2009
Fell Out Of An Ugly Tree & Hit Lotsa Branches On The Way Down: Dan Neil likes the new little Mazda, except for its looks: "New for 2010, the Mazdaspeed3 (and the regular Mazda3) is fitted with this psychotic piece of plastic in the lower bumper clip, a toothless meth-hillbilly smile that cries out for nothing so much as a low-speed front collision.
You'd have to tie a pork chop to the back bumper just to get dogs to chase it. You could put this car's picture on a box of Ex-Lax and sell it empty."
Keepin' Busy: Earlier this month, we purchased two new computers - an iMac with a 24 inch screen for me and a MacBook Pro with a 15.4 inch LED screen for my wife. Her computer is thin and lightweight and has an aluminum case.
Because it contains a built-in aircard, we can - if we want - take her laptop on trips and use the hotel WiFi (or jack it into the in-room hi-speed connection). Both computers run the latest Snow Leopard operating system. These two new machines supplement/replace my old 2003 desklamp-style iMac which had a 20-inch screen.
We also bought a Time Capsule storage, back-up and networking unit. I also purchased updated Adobe Creative Suite software - now I have to learn Dreamweaver for web page building. I currently use Adobe GoLive.
I also purchased the iWork productivity suite - Apple's answer to Microsoft Office. I have to learn that, too. As well as the revamped, feature-laden iPhoto.
A new Brother laser printer had to be acquired, too. The old one (an ancient but still working Apple LaserWriter 4/600 from 1996), couldn't be configured to work with the new network.
Both computers have built-in webcams and PhotoBooth software. Now I can take photos of myself while I'm working. Why I would do this, I don't know.
Yes, it works with iChat but I'm not a chatty person, so I doubt if I'll learn to use it.
In the webcam photo of me "at work" - the shelves in the background contain 1:43 scale Franklin Mint Cars of the Fifties, which I began collecting in the 1980s. Below it is a shelf full of FM Cars of the Sixties. Like many geezer gearheads, I surround myself with automobilia.
Becoming proficient on all the new hardware and software will keep me busy for a while. (permalink)
The Next Meltdown: An article by David Cho in the Washington Post has noted: "The financial crisis has blown a hole in the rosy forecasts of pension funds that cover teachers, police officers and other government employees, casting into doubt as never before whether these public systems will be able to keep their promises to future generations of retirees. ... Within 15 years, public systems on average will have less half the money they need to pay pension benefits, according to an analysis by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Other analysts say funding levels could hit that low within a decade."
"The problem isn't limited to public pension funds; many corporate pension funds have lost so much ground that they are also pursuing riskier investments. And they, too, could end up a taxpayer burden if they cannot meet their obligations and are taken over by the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp."
Many people don't understand basic math. If you have $10,000 invested and the stock market drops by 37%, you won't make your money back, if the market goes up 20% one year and 17% the next. After a 37% drop, your investment is worth $6,300. A 20% increase brings it to $7,560. Another 17% increase makes your investment worth $8,845. The market must rise still another 13% in year three just for you to break even.
Sanctimonious And Two-Faced? Psychologists in Canada have revealed new research suggesting that people who become eco-conscious 'green consumers' are "more likely to steal and lie than others." "Buying products that claim to be made with low environmental impact can set up 'moral credentials' in people's minds that give license to selfish or questionable behavior."
Moon Over Hamburg: A German man mooning railway staff (who had forced him off the train for traveling without a ticket) in a departing train got his trousers caught in the railway car door and ended up being dragged half naked along the platform, out of the station and onto the tracks.
Hot, Hot, Hot: This Onion News Network video is spreading like ... ummmm ... wildfire.
Quote Of The Day is from Groucho Marx: "I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury."
Tuesday October 13, 2009
Oh, The Days Dwindle Down: On a chilly and partly sunny Monday, I took a ride in the Plymouth along country roads. The air now has a Fall smell about it and the light is changing. The trees still have their leaves and we're probably a couple of weeks away from peak color.
Rain is moving in and is supposed to be here for the foreseeable future.
Kiddie Cars: Once upon a time, it was believed that little cars helped sell big cars. Starting in the 1920s, Citroën actively assisted toy manufacturers, freely supplying technical details to toymakers and acting as a distributor, selling little cars in its dealerships. The theory was that young children would bond to the brand of auto and, as adults, would be more prone to purchase the full-size namesake. Or persuade their fathers to buy the full-size model. It was just one more way to build brand loyalty in the marketplace.
In the 1950s, it was very common to find 1/25th scale promotional models at U.S. car dealers, toy stores - even gas stations. These injection-molded plastic vehicles were fairly realistic and were available in factory colors.
During the same time period, five-and-dime stores carried crude but recognizable 10¢ diecast Tootsietoys of popular cars.
When I bought a new Scirocco in 1976, I purchased a few 1:43 scale models of my new car - in the same silver color as my 1:1 scale Volkswagen. These little diecast models were made by the German firm Schuco and were pretty accurate. I got mine from the VW dealer where I bought my car.
By the late 1970s, models of American contemporary automobiles became harder to find. Maybe it was because cars had become less exciting-looking. There have always been models made of swoopy Ferraris and Corvettes but everyday cars have become less available. This is not the case in Europe, where manufacturers like Schuco, Eligor, Bburago and Minichamps introduce miniature models of Mercedes, BMW, Fiats, Opels and Seats simultaneously with full-size model intros. In Japan, Tomica manufactures models of many contemporary Japanese vehicles.
If I were in charge of an American car company, I'd ... (more >>>)
And Furthermore ... courtesy of Hemmings, you'll find some great photos of 1:25 scale cars in awesome diorama settings here.
Milestone: Fifty years ago, on Columbus Day 1959, I got my driver's license. That fact makes me feel unbelievably ancient.
Another Reason To Feel Old: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing two venerable Catholic high schools in June: Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic High School for Boys. They are the latest casualties of the archdiocese's perennial problems in the city of rising costs, falling enrollment and competition from publicly-funded charter schools.
Enrollment at coed Dougherty, once the largest Catholic high school in the world, soared to nearly 6,000 students in 1965 - nine years after it opened. The .... (more >>>)
Headline Of The Week ... so far ... is from The Onion: 'Sotomayor Misses Supreme Court Case After Failing To Get Out Of Jury Duty'. Excerpt: Recently appointed justice Sonia Sotomayor told reporters that, despite making dozens of excuses, she was selected for jury duty this week, causing her to miss a landmark Supreme Court case addressing campaign finance reform.
"I probably threw away four of those letters before I got one that said I had to appear or 'face serious penalties,' whatever that means," said Sotomayor, who was forced to appear at a nearby municipal courthouse Monday. "I just got a new job, for Christ's sake. I can't afford to be sitting in some dingy courtroom all day. God, what a waste of time."
"The guy is totally guilty, by the way," Sotomayor continued. "You can tell just by looking at him."
Ronald Reagan vs. Barack Obama: Jean Kaufman has written, "Reagan believed in American exceptionalism, whereas Obama believes in Obama's exceptionalism."
Bad Pun Of The Day: She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.
Friday October 9, 2009
Sta-Bilized: After the fog burned off on Thursday, I fired up the '39, drove to town, purchased some Sta-Bil which I added to the Plymouth's tank in the farm store parking lot in preparation for the car's Winter nap. Then I gassed up the car and went for a nice drive to mix everything real good.
The Fall colors are just starting around here. Fall temperatures are another matter; when I got home at 11:00 am, it was a non-summery 53 degrees.
I took another ride this morning; the weather forecast calls for rain next week, so my old car driving opportunities may be limited.
Car Sighting: The new Mini Clubman is, at best, an ungainly little beast with its second color band around the rear visually disturbing, especially if the contrast of the color-combo is large. On I-84 in Portland, I passed a white one with a black band. Unbelievably ugly; Citroën-at-its-worst hideous.
I'm Old Enough ... to remember when the Nobel Peace Prize was based on accomplishments. Once upon a time, it was awarded to folks like Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa, The Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Linus Pauling and Albert Schweitzer.
Now it's apparently just an Affirmative Action award.
I hope President Obama cherishes his Nobel - it's a Dynamite Prize.
Update: Motor Trend has just named Barack Obama '2010 Car of the Year'.
The Truth About Nobel: It's a little-known fact that, in 1983, I won the Nobel Prize for Acrylic Fabrication. Well deserved, I might add.
In my day, I did a helluva job of making almost bubble-free glue joints on Plexiglas, despite being located in rainy Oregon. It's really hard to produce near-perfect, solvent-based seams unless you're in a desert clime.
I won't reveal my secret method except to say that, in addition to the usual ethylene dichloride solvent (EDC), it involved the use of isopropyl alcohol and wicked, voluminous flatulence. (It's been rumored that Obama sometimes employs these in his field of endeavor as well.)
The Nobel Prize wasn't such a big deal back in the 1980s; there was no money awarded, just some gift certificates from Koala Blue, Casual Male, Chipwich Cookies and the Pennsauken Mart.
Disappointingly, the medal itself was only a piece of foil-covered chocolate. (It did look nice in photographs, though.) Not very good chocolate, either. Yasser Arafat was seen at the awards banquet eagerly chomping on his 'medal' with brown drool running down his stubbled chin. Disgusting.
I didn't have a very good time in Oslo. The days were very short, people seemed sullen and every elevator played an instrumental pan flute version of The Beatles' 'Norwegian Wood'. It made my teeth hurt.
Candy stores sold gummy Swedish Fish, except they were called 'Norwegian Fish'. And they actually smelled and tasted like fish, too. Yecchh. I was happy to return home so I could get back to eating anchovy-free pizza. And watching 'Flashdance' repeats on Showtime. "What a feeling ..."
Ooops, I almost forgot to mention that prize-winners also received a cellophane-wrapped gift basket containing ten kilos of explosives, courtesy of the good folks at Dynamit Nobel GMBH. I still have mine, stored in a proper controlled-temperature, low-humidity environment. Arafat put his to use right away, I was told. (permalink)
Actions Have Consequences: Here's a scary unemployment graph ... (more >>>)
When Politicians Meddle: Thomas Sowell has written, "After political crusades for "affordable housing" ended up ruining the housing market and much of the economy with it, many of the same politicians are now carrying on a crusade for "affordable health care." But what you can afford has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of producing anything. Refusing to pay those costs means that you are just not going to continue getting the same quantity and quality - regardless of what any politician says or how well he says it."
Be Careful What You Wish For: Here's what happens with government-imposed health care. A former Democratic speechwriter for Edwards, Clinton and Obama has written, "For the first time in my life, I am without health insurance and it is a terrible feeling. ... I moved from Washington, D.C., back to Massachusetts, a state with universal health care. In D.C., I had a policy with a national company, an HMO, and surprisingly I was very happy with it. I had a fantastic primary care doctor at Georgetown University Hospital. As a self-employed writer, my premium was $225 a month, plus $10 for a dental discount.
In Massachusetts, the cost for a similar plan is around $550, give or take a few dollars. My risk factors haven't changed ... there has been no change in the way I live my life except my zip code - to a state with universal health care."
Blah, blah, blah ... bottom line: she can't afford the increased premium.
She noted, "While the state has the lowest rate of uninsured, a report by the Commonwealth Fund states that Massachusetts has the highest premiums in the country. The state's budget is a mess and lawmakers had to make deep cuts in services and increase the sales tax to close gaps." She is - understandably - unhappy.
Proving the old adage that you're only a liberal until you get mugged.
Still not convinced? Check out the story of this poor fellow. (permalink)
TMI Mega-Overload: A gay man tried to poison his lesbian neighbors by putting slug pellets into their curry after he was accused of kidnapping their three-legged cat.
Damn You, Global Warming: Idaho school kids enjoy earliest snow day in history. Colorado ski resort boasts earliest opening day in 40 years. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, arctic ice actually thickened over the summer.
Bad Beginnings: David McKenzie, a 55-year-old Federal Way, WA resident has won the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest - the one that salutes bad writing. The contest takes its name from Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel 'Paul Clifford' famously begins: "It was a dark and stormy night." Entrants are asked to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels.
Damn. I forgot to submit my entry:
"She said she was from Wyoming and, while she didn't have much of an ass, I just couldn't keep my eyes off her Grand Tetons."
What's All This, Then? A 2,400 page British government document, the Defense Manual of Security, advising officials on how to keep documents from leaking onto the Internet has been published - leaked onto the Internet.
Quote Of The Day is from Winston Churchill: "Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you."
Wednesday October 7, 2009
Titanic. Deck Chairs. Rearrange. With sales down sharply and pressure to start generating cash before government loans run out, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne shook up his executive team, replacing two of his brand managers after just four months and splitting Dodge into car and truck units, creating a new Ram brand for trucks.
Slice & Dice: Condé Nast is shuttering Gourmet, a magazine of almost biblical status in the food world; it has been published since 1940. Condé Nast will also close Cookie, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride.
Magazines are dropping like flies. In 2009, the following pulp publications have disappeared: Urb, Vibe, Backyard Living, Cooking For 2, Golf Inc., Pink, Blender, Children's Digest, Shallow Water Angler, Television Week, Portfolio, Wildlife Conservation, Genre, Tennis Week, Best Life, Travel + Leisure Golf, Hollywood Life, Computer Shopper, Mountain Time, Arizona Woman, Metal Edge, Metal Maniacs, Comic Foundry, Domino, Wonder Time, Teen, Ascent, Plenty, Country Home and Electronic Gaming Monthly. I've never heard of any of these mags.
In addition, the following car buff publications have died: IndyCar Series, Sport Compact Car Magazine and Modified Luxury & Exotics. I've never heard of those either.
Earlier this year, Interlink, the parent of Motor Trend, Hot Rod and Automobile filed for bankruptcy.
It's easy to blame other media for these print failures. The number of magazines found in a typical household has been dropping as reading time has been usurped by television, video games and online activities.
But magazine publishers are guilty of cannibalistic behavior. Egged on by marketing consultants, they have debuted spin-offs designed to appeal to specialty segments of their main market. This is an incredibly stupid thing (the graveyards of commerce are overflowing with failed line extensions - MCI Mail, Life Savers Gum, New Coke, etc.) but especially so in a shrinking marketplace.
By segmenting, the market for the donor product is chopped up into smaller pieces. The periodical business doesn't seem to realize that you can only make a pie slice so thin before it becomes transparent and worthless. Especially if that pie is shrinking.
Excessive market segmentation will eventually give rise to products like Purell for Zombies.
As further proof of the marketing insanity out there, it has been rumored that the following mag titles were under consideration: Dead Bride, Luxury Rides For Dyslexics, Modern Trepanation. (permalink)
Burgundy Spit-Takes ... are breaking out all over Paris as the French learn that McDonald's is opening a restaurant in the Louvre.
Quote Of The Day is from Will Rogers: "We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress."
Monday October 5, 2009
Pentastar Mess: Douglas A. McIntyre has written that Chrysler may not make it another year, due to its tumbling sales and growing financial losses at partner Fiat.
Chrysler only sold 62,197 cars in September - down 42% from the same month last year. Chrysler is being handily outsold by GM, Toyota, Ford and Honda. Nissan and Hyundai are nipping at Chrysler's heels. The only five-digit monthly seller at Chrysler is the Dodge Ram pickup - Chrysler's sole model in the list of top 20 vehicles by sales volume. 13,452 Rams were sold in September, compared with 33,877 Ford F-Series.
I was pessimistic about Chrysler's survival when it first filed for that bizarre banana-republic bankruptcy, which I now refer to as Obamaruptcy. And the subsequent shotgun marriage to Fiat - a nuptial which only made sense after a lot of drinking or a severe head injury.
But - drunk or brain-damaged - you and I are on the hook for Chrysler, since we have become Involuntary Stockholders. The $14.3 billion we taxpayers put into Chrysler is more and more likely to be lost completely. Getting our money back is as probable as winching a '58 Crown Imperial limo out of a bubbling tar pit which has just been declared a National Historic Site.
McIntyre concluded, "Chrysler is going out of business. The company just hasn't made it official." (permalink)
Another One Bites The Dust: According to information posted on TTAC, Carr Cadillac of Vancouver, WA is scheduled for termination by GM.
If so, that will mean there will be no Cadillac dealers in Clark County - an area with a population of almost 425,000. Within 90 miles of me, there will soon be only one Cadillac dealer. The ones in Longview, WA, McMinnville, OR and Salem, OR are also being terminated, leaving only one Caddy dealer (Vic Alfonso of Portland, OR) to serve a population of about 2.7 million.
This speaks volumes about the diminished appeal of Cadillac - once The Standard of the World. Based on my observation, the preferred rides of luxury car owners around here are Lexus and BMW.
For what it's worth, the only TGI Friday's in Clark County has closed - one of 10 franchised restaurants in Washington, Oregon and Sacramento that have been shuttered.
Like Cadillac, it's another tired brand that's been sliding downhill for decades.
Asleep At The Wheel: A 27-year-old Corvallis, OR, man is facing DUI charges after he fell asleep in the drive-thru lane at a local McDonald's. Authorities say the man, whose blood-alcohol content was 0.18, passed out "after a night of partying."
The Recession Continues: September 2009 consumer bankruptcy filings reached 124,790 - a 41% increase over last year. "Bankruptcy filings continue to climb as consumers look to shelter themselves from the effects of rising unemployment rates and housing debt," said American Bankruptcy Institute Executive Director Samuel J. Gerdano. "The consumer filing total through the first nine months is consistent with our expectation that consumer bankruptcies will top 1.4 million in 2009." Ouch.
But ... but ... (more >>>)
More Reasons To Hate Jimmah ... presented by Ed Anger: The Carter Administration's "economy was so crappy they had to come up with a whole new name for it: 'stagflation'. We had no gasoline. He let the A-rabs kidnap Americans and did nothing about it. And he didn't lift a finger to ban bell-bottoms, disco music, green fridges and shag carpeting."
Throw Pillows - Is There Anything They Can't Do? Colorado grandmother Sally Rebehn used a decorative pillow to fight off a bear that broke into her bedroom.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Perhaps the scariest aspect of our times is how many people think in talking points, rather than in terms of real world consequences."
Friday October 2, 2009
Steve Martin, You'll Kill Us All: When I saw the headline about the Great Toyota Recall - 3.8 million vehicles indicted for floor mats that may cause the accelerator pedal to get stuck in a wide open throttle position - I read further and found that my wife's 2005 Avalon was on the list.
We've never experienced such a problem with the car. Nevertheless, I carefully examined the Avalon's driver side mat. It is anchored to the floor with a hole-and-hook thingie. The underside of the mat has molded rubber spikes. These two features make the mat almost impossible to move.
In trying to figure out what conditions would be required to make the mat slide, I came up with three that would have to be simultaneously present: a ton of slippery dirt beneath the mat, cleated soccer shoes and a severe case of Happy Feet.
When it came to factory mat-sliding, the worst car I've ever owned was a Lincoln '84 Mark VII. The mats had no hook-n-hole anchor and had an ineffective waffle pattern on the back of the mat. I'd have to adjust the mat every three days or so; otherwise, it would bunch up under the brake.
Of course, the Lincoln also had the dreaded runaway cruise control common to Ford products of the '80s and 90s - an issue FoMoCo never got around to solving during my eight years of ownership, despite an avalanche of customer complaints. On the other hand, the customer fix was simple: either hit the coast button, turn the cruise control off for 30 seconds, or tap the brake pedal once. Presto - no more unintended acceleration.
Up 'n' Down: Ford's sales were down 5.1% over September 2008. (Ford Canada sales were up 24%.) Lincoln & Mercury sales declined by 21% and 16% respectively. The recently-introduced Lincoln MKS "flagship" is down 28%, selling slightly over only 1,300 units in September. The ancient Grand Marquis is now Mercury's biggest seller; only 92 Sables were sold last month.
But GM and Chrysler took a much bigger hit, dropping 45 and 42% respectively. Meanwhile Hyundai was up 45%, Kia 24%. Honda was down 20%, Toyota 16%, Nissan 18%. Toyota Avalon sales were off by 39%, with 1,939 units sold. (During the same period, Ford sold 5,077 of its new Taurus.) 777 Lexus LS models were moved out in September - a drop of 37% from September 2008.
The GM hit was especially brutal, considering that it had a lot of new and refreshed models in the lineup. Buick was down 33%, Chevy dropped 40% and GMC fell 53%. I guess all those disappointed Pontiac prospects are taking their business elsewhere.
Chrysler is more of an expected disaster, with no new products to offer - just last year's dreck with 2010 titles. The Chrysler Sebring shed 73% of its sales, while PT Cruiser and Aspen dropped 89% each. "Nothing to see here, folks, just hosin' the blood off the sidewalk."
Total estimated sales, seasonally-adjusted annual rate, based on September: 9.22 million, according to Autodata Corp.
Coincidence ... Or What? 37 days after Cash for Clunkers ends, Saturn is goin' outta business. Saturn sales were down 84% in September. Roger Penske threw in the towel and poured himself a large snifter of Hennessy Paradis, realizing that he had dodged a Big One.
Another Reason Why Government Is So Expensive: The average federal civilian wage in 2008 was $79,197, more than 50% greater than that of the average private sector employee’s wages of $49,935, according to the Cato Institute's analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. ... "When wages and benefits are combined, federal civilian workers averaged $119,982 in 2008, twice the amount of $59,909 which workers in the private sector averaged in their wages and benefits combined."
And furthermore: "Pay growth in the public sector has been much higher than growth in the private sector over the years, too. Between 2000 and 2008, wages for federal civilian workers climbed 53.7%, while wages in the private sector went up 28.5% over the same time period."
"The disparity between the public and private sectors is present even in employment statistics. Between July 2008 and July 2009, the private sector lost some 5.2 million workers while government grew by 238,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics."
Suddenly It's 1890! A San Antonio School District Aquatics Center said it has replaced its U.S. flag after someone pointed out it had only 43 stars, which would have been correct during the Benjamin Harrison administration in July, 1890.
On July 3rd, Idaho was admitted as the 43rd U.S. state; on July 10th, Wyoming became the 44th state.
Allied Advertising, which replaced the flag at no cost, said the flawed flag was created by a designer who is no longer with the company.
The artist was last seen pedaling away on a high-wheeler bicycle.
Quote Of The Day is from Rodney Dangerfield: "My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying."