Wednesday, December 31, 2008
According to the Associated Press there's a school "in Michigan's Upper Peninsula" which has released a list of words that they don't want people to use. The Lake Superior State University has released a List of Words to be Banished From the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. I know, it's rather a pretentious sounding title for a banned words list and this is their selection of soon-to-be-banished words: marverick, green, carbon footprint or carbon offsetting, first dude, bailout, Wall Street/Main Street, Monkey, <3 (Emoticon for "heart" used in text messages and e-mail), icon or iconic, game changer, staycation, desperate search, not so much, winner of five nominations, and it's that time of year again.
So who, exactly, elected the people at Lake Superior to run the world and do we know if this college actually exists? If so, is it bigger than Quinnipiac College? And what is it that they have against James Garner? Sure he wasn't as good in the TV show Maverick as he was later in The Rockford Files, but banning the use of the word maverick is a bit harsh, don't you think?
Here's my response to the folks at Lake Superior (if it exists):
Like, dudes, it really, really bums me out, you know, when people like, you know, get all in my face and like try to tell me how to talk. Let's get real, chill out and not be hating. Back off, man, 'cause everything is cool.
Everything is everything. Peace and love. Power to the people. See you on the other side. Courage.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Until today I had no idea that a website called Chicago Breaking News existed. But I went there, discovered that it's powered by several big shouldered media sources and came across the following breaking news item - an item which might be missed by CNN, Fox and the mighty NBC.
WASHING-MACHINE BURGLAR ARRESTED, POLICE SAY
December 30, 2008 at 7:11 a.m.
Aurora police say they have arrested the person responsible for prying off the tops of washing machines and dryers in apartment complexes in order to steal coins, the Aurora Beacon News is reporting.
Kevin D. Richardson, 48, of the 800 block of West New York Street, has been charged with four counts of burglary and two counts of theft by possession, all felonies.
Police say they arrested Richardson on a tip. They say he burglarized 11 pieces of laundry equipment.
Monday, December 29, 2008
The brand new 2009 Chevy Camaro from General Motors (it's the car to the left in the above photo). But a Tom Hilland of Denver doesn't have a lot of love for old GM as reflected in this interesting letter published in the January 2009 issue of Motor Trend:
With rare exceptions, European and Japanese cars-vehicles are just better put together and offer a much better driving experience. The Big Three have insulted potential buyers for so many years their customer base has evaporated. While GM was still offering its obsolete four-speed auto and thrashy V-6s, its competitors did the opposite with refined five and six-speed transmissions and smooth, well-presented engines with truly luxurious interiors. While the domestics played with their trucks and the imports obliterated them from the market, the choices became obvious as to which was the better buy. Motown Myopia? Musclecars are so 1950s in the 21st century. We don't need them, no matter the form, in 2009 or the future.
(I wonder how Mr. Hilland really feels? Hey, if Rick Wagoner's driving one, I want one!)
Sunday, December 28, 2008
By Ken Volonte. (Mario Volonte Plymouth/DeSoto operated in South San Francisco from 1939 through 1960.)
I suppose my most memorable Christmas Eve was the night my father took us all to McDonald's for dinner. We usually ate at the Leaning Tower in Redwood City just before heading up to my Aunt Jerry's for our annual gift exchange.
On this night, my dad hadn't bothered to make dinner reservations. Why should he? He knew that his old pal Joe Ercoli would have a table waiting at the Leaning Tower.
Every Christmas Eve, we dined on exquisite homemade breads, exotic and dangerous appetizers and strange drinks. My mother hated fast food places, even the ultra-plush Jack in the Box in our neighborhood.
It had not been a busy Christmas Eve for my father. Nobody had come in to buy a car at his Plymouth dealership, but at least no one had wasted his time before buying a used car which would fall apart within eight months... He decided to start celebrating early.
At exactly 1:00, he entered the Gondolier. He never went in there for the drinks, my father made himself clear on that point. They served good food and my dad had a profound respect for all things Italian - even for the bartender, a Genovese. By 4:00, my father had eaten and drunk enough bourbon and waters to eulogize the local undertaker who had died some years before.
At home, I hated getting into my suit. It was the iridescent suit from junior high and it made me itch, especially in the crotch, where you couldn't scratch on the eve of the birthday of our Lord.
Down the street from the Gondolier, the phone in the Leaning Tower surely hummed with people checking that night's menu or making reservations. At 5:00, my mother and I arrived at Nona's house. My father would show up soon with a bottle of Strega for Nonie and a corsage for my mother. After he showered, we would be at the Leaning Tower by 6:30.
But at 6:15, my father still hadn't shown. My mom called his car agency only to be told, "Hell, Marj, I think he's down at the Gondolier."
On the TV I heard, "At General Electric, progress is our most important product." We had a GE toaster at home. It didn't work right. Just then, the back door banged open and in walked my father. "Whoooooo is Bambolina, a bright old man is heeee," Dad sang. "How are you feeling?" asked my mother archly. "I," said my father, "have never been healthier."
Well, the reason we didn't eat at the Leaning Tower is that we didn't have a reservation. We didn't eat at Tad's Roast Beef Emporium because my dad said he'd once heard one of the cooks fart. Every other place was full up or closed. McDonald's was just about to close when my mother threatened divorce.
I had a Big Mac and a Coke. It was Christmas Eve.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Despite global warming - and with apologies to Al Gore - it has been an especially cold winter in most parts of the U.S. this year, even out west. For those with sensitive skin, like this reporter, that has led to all-time itchy skin problems. I've tried everything including Aveeno intense relief hand cream, Extra Strength Benadryl itch stopping cream, Target's 1% hydrocortisone anti-itch cream, Lanacane Maximum Strength anti-itch creme medication, Neosporin cream, and Lever 2000 Vaseline soap with fresh aloe. Not only did none of these products help, I was left with patches of skin that felt burnt from irritation.
Then I remembered hearing those commercials for so many years, on both TV and radio, for Gold Bond's medicated powders and creams. Oh, well, at this point how could it hurt? I went out to my local grocery store and purchased Gold Bond Ultimate Comfort Body Powder with Aloe. On my very first application I started to feel better and while I'm not now completely itch-free, each day seems to be a bit better than the prior one.
I'm continuing to use the Gold Bond Ultimate Powder and I'll now also be using the Gold Bond Medicated Anti-Itch Cream. Their products not only work as advertised but they're very reasonably priced. And just today I found that there's a one ounce travel-sized container of the powder.
This stuff works which explains why this company has been in business since 1908. Accept no substitutes!
Friday, December 26, 2008
Is it just me? The first time I saw a photograph of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on TV I wondered why John Travolta was wearing a bad Beatles wig. Maybe, I thought, Travolta's making a movie about a ragged Beatles cover band? It turns out that other people I've spoken to have said they initially had the same reaction, although some do not see the resemblance.
Blago's hair is without a doubt strange. Many think it's a wig and a ragged one. My barber says it's the 51-year-old governor's real hair, just "far too long for someone his age" - another example of age inappropriateness. I wonder if it will be trimmed if and when he goes to prison. Let's just hope that U.S. taxpayers won't have to foot the huge bill for his black hair dye.
It does appear that Blago was engaged in some delusional thinking just a few weeks ago. In a report prepared on December 23, 2008, by Gregg Craig for President-Elect Barack Obama, we see an interesting discussion concerning Blago in connection with Valerie Jarrett (who will be working in the Obama White House) and Tom Balanoff of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Here is the relevant "it would never happen" excerpt from the Craig report concerning events that happened in early November 2008:
Ms. Jarrett had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich, with his Chief of Staff, John Harris or with any other people from the Governor's office about a successor to replace the President-Elect in the United States Senate or how the decision should be made...
On November 7, 2008 -- at a time when she was still a potential candidate for the Senate seat -- Ms. Jarrett spoke with Mr. Tom Balanoff... Mr. Balanoff is not a member of the Governor's staff and did not purport to speak for the Governor on that occasion. But... the subject of the Governor's interest in a cabinet appointment came up in that conversation...
Mr. Balanoff told Mrs. Jarrett that he had spoken to the Governor about the possibility of selecting (her) to replace the President-Elect. Ms. Jarrett recalls that Mr. Balanoff... told her that the Governor had raised... the (possibility that) the Governor might be considered as a possible candidate to head up the Department of Health and Human Services in the new administration.
Mr. Balanoff... told the Governor that it would never happen. Jarrett concurred.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
It's not the failure that kills you, as much as the hope. That's what gets under your skin and makes you believe that things can change, that life matters, that the distance between possibility and reality is nothing compared to human ingenuity, hard work and a trace amount of God's genius. - Peter Ames Carlin
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
We were not big fans of the National Broadcasting Company's (NBC) televised coverage of the recent summer Olympics from China which relied on "experts" like Chris Collingsworth -- a former football player, for goodness sakes -- and some tired anchors whose names I won't publicize any further. Oh, and then there were the old and tired camera angles used while broadcasting the women's and men's marathons... Let's see, there was the camera in front of the pack, the camera at the back and the helicopter shot that made Beijing look like nothing more than downtown Los Angeles/Burbank.
Just two cameras were used during the track and field events. One camera was placed in front of the runners and the other was placed at the side of the track. Gosh, that was so interesting and so 1950s-like.
But NBC hasn't gotten the expected bounce from that coverage. Instead, its fortunes seemed to have waned as reflected in these comments -- from the last two days -- from two different print media sources. First, USA Today wrote on Tuesday about, "NBC, a network that can't borrow a good idea to save its soul." Today, the San Francisco Chronicle noted the foolishness of having in 2004 promised Conan O'Brien -- originally hired as nothing more than a tall comedy writer -- Jay Leno's job in 2009. But the network did and recently attempted to salve this wound by giving Leno a 5-day a week 10:00 p.m. slot. The Chronicle noted that this agreement degrades both O'Brien's value and that of "The Tonight Show," as Leno should retain the clout to host the very best guests and hire the best writers. Agreed.
But the Chronicle did not stop there. It went on to state, "NBC executives can't program. Period. The network... slid from first to fourth and can't create or sustain hits. Despite a relentless marketing campaign around the Summer Olympics, NBC's fall programming imploded, its midseason offerings are not generating any excitement, and it just lost five hours of prime-time programming. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the (winless) Detroit Lions of broadcast television."
So what are the odds that Rick Wagoner will bolt from General Motors to lead NBC? It'll be an oh-so short flight from Detroit to beautiful downtown Burbank's Bob Hope Airport on a luxury leased jet.
As you can see, Munchy is already sleeping waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. Munchy's a bit excited because he's heard that Santa may be bringing him a Hammacher Schlemmer heated cat bed, just the thing for a senior cat with arthritic bones!
Photo: Joseph/Munchy Archives (Click on the photo to see a larger version.)
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
We wrote earlier about how NORAD will again tomorrow -- for the 50th year in a row -- track the movements of Santa Claus around the world. Now NORAD has further revealed that Santa's sleigh is equipped with a new and ultra-high tech Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking and navigation device, enabling NORAD's 1,000 plus Santa trackers to follow him with acute precision.
According to our well placed sources in the North Pole, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was concerned that the new GPS device might result in Santa leaving him behind. Just a few hours ago, Santa held a news conference at which he assured reporters that Rudolph will remain his lead reindeer. As Santa said, "When it's foggy, I need that glowing red nose so I don't collide with any low-flying aircraft!" Which just goes to show that sometimes the old-time technology is best.
Go, Rudolph, go!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Santa likes to stay busy during the entire month of December. As you can see here, he came to Sacramento during the first weekend to give high-fives to runners in the California International Marathon. Then he went up to Lake Tahoe to supervise the training of numerous Santa's Helpers at his annual winter convention.
Although he's quite far away from the North Pole, we hear that he keeps in touch with Mrs. Claus via his Blackberry and Acer Aspire One netbook.
Before we turn around and find that its suddenly October of 2009. The next running of the Portland Marathon will come around on Sunday, October 4, 2009. We'll have a lot more information on this fine event coming up in the future on this site, including our views of the best places to stay in downtown Portland (Oregon not Maine) and the best places to have coffee. One of the best places to stay is also one of the best places to have coffee, but that story will come later.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Of Sacramento who beat the Long Beach Poly High Jackrabbits, 25 - 20 in the inaugural California Interscholastic Foundation (CIF) open division state football championship! The Pacers had to come back in the last two minutes to score and win this north versus south confrontation, played in Carson, CA.
Poly coach Raul Lara said, "Toward the end of the game, I thought we got tired... They've got athletes just like us. The thing that surprised me most about them was their size. They were big kids."
We often side with southern California when it comes to college football, but in this case we're happy to see the Sacramento locals - Grant has long been a high school basketball powerhouse - win it all. Go, Pacers!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
For the 50th year in a row, the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) will be tracking the movements of Santa Claus as he delivers presents to children throughout the world. Over 1,000 U.S. Air Force Santa trackers will again operate out of the Santa Operations Center (SOC), Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to using radar and satellites, NORAD will utilize a worldwide network of high-tech cameras to take photos and videos of Santa. Using Google software, these will be posted on the NORAD website, which had over 10.5 million visitors on Christmas Eve in 2007. The website lets visitors track Santa's travels on a Google map as well as on Google Earth.
One very important lesson learned by NORAD is stated by USAF Major Stacia Redish, "From all of our years of tracking Santa, we... know that he only comes to a home where the children are asleep." Thus, all kids waiting for Santa need to go to bed on Christmas Eve when their parents tell them to!
In a related development, professor Larry Silverberg of the North Carolina State engineering department has noted that, "Santa exploits the space-time continuum" and uses thermodynamics and nanotechnology to circumnavigate the globe and deliver hundreds of millions of presents on Christmas Eve. Yes, the Big Claus is a primo scientist and some suspect that he once counseled with Albert Einstein.
Silverberg said that the Big Claus is stretching and compressing space and time into a short delivery span. Silverberg added that Santa's special reindeer have been genetically engineered to fly, and the naughty and nice list is produced using giant polar antennae and radar-style signals. So, you'd better be good!
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
One of the arguments heard even today from the Big 3 automobile companies is that the spectre of - or even the hint of possible - bankruptcy will keep Americans from buying their cars. Rick Wagoner, the CEO of GM, told the U.S. Senate that 80% of Americans would refuse to buy a car from a company that had filed for bankruptcy. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates that this line of argument is simply wrong; flat out wrong.
This poll asked the question: Would the auto companies filing bankruptcy make you less or more willing to buy an American car? Three out of every four respondents, 75%, said it would not affect their decision. A higher number, 82%, said they would consider buying a Detroit-branded car in the future. And 57% of Americans still believe - although we don't - that all three major American auto companies will survive.
So, just because a highly-paid auto executive or a highly-paid spokesperson says something is true doesn't make it so. For some reason, the auto executives continue to discount the option of bankruptcy even if it might be the very medicine their ailing companies need. As was so well-stated by Aaron Bragman, an IHS Global Insight analyst, "It is one of the big contentions the auto industry has made, that people will not buy from a bankrupt company. They have fought bankruptcy tooth and nail."
We're not saying that bankruptcy would or would not fix things, simply that the debate needs to be centered around honest arguments based on factual research, like this latest poll.
SNOW MAZES OF NORWAY by Jenny Dalton
Six points on a snowflake, eight arrows on a compass
My brother with a host family playing drums for the Norwegians
He went walking to explore Trysil, but he got lost in a winter maze
Six points on a snow flake, eight arrows on a compass
Six ways from Sunday falling down
Eight feet of heaven on the ground
Keep him warm, keep him warm
'Cause in the snow mazes of Norway,
he is underground
He brought back some souvenirs
a metal bowl with a Viking ship
a wooden carving and compass
and six points on a snowflake
Six points on a snowflake
Eight memories in a photograph
My brother's going to miss that snow
Now he surfs in San Diego
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
As the Beach Boys sang, Christmas comes this time each year, and if there's one thing we need this time of year its Christmas music. In order to meet this obligation, I went out recently and purchased Christmas With the Beach Boys. I had read earlier that this CD is actually a compilation of two Beach Boys vinyl Christmas albums, so my expectations were not high. I fully expected a low-fidelity, monophonic collection. Instead, I found that this 25-track collection contains only one song recorded in mono; the rest are all in fabulous stereo with many of them wonderfully produced and arranged by Dick Reynolds. Reynolds worked with The Four Freshman who had a tremendous influence on the young Brian Wilson.
The collection includes not one but three versions of the huge seasonal hit, Little St. Nick - a plain version, the '63 single version and a unique alternate version that only be described as fun, fun, fun (the story about Santa's sled being, in fact, a cleverly disguised hot-rod song). The Man With All The Toys, the number 3 single of the 1964 Christmas season, is also included. The Man... has a great stereo mix with a very audible bass line.
Another track with a great bass line is the very Elvis-like Merry Christmas Baby. The legend is that one of Elvis' own bass players put down the bouncy bottom on this one. Then there's Christmas Day, the first time Alan Jardine sang a lead vocal on a Beach Boys song. A year later Al was to sing the lead on Help Me, Rhonda. Which goes to show that they should have let him sing lead more often.
Frosty the Snowman is beautifully produced and arranged by Reynolds and sounds like something from a 60s TV special. I could go on and on, track by track, but I'll instead comment on only a few more songs...
Blue Christmas is just Brian singing Elvis' hit in front of an arrangement seemingly made for Sinatra. This one is simply awfully nice. It was a very good Christmas.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town recalls Brian's fondness for Dean Martin. This silly, goofy, arrangement is one that Dean would have loved! Santa's Got An Airplane will appeal to, and make sense for, fans of the Endless Harmony CD/DVD. Winter Song is another example - as if the world needed it - of Brian's genius, a Blood, Sweat and Tears/Chicago-style track.
White Christmas, the old Bing Crosby-staple, is re-invented as a Pet Sounds-style track (Caroline no). I'll Be Home for Christmas features the Beach Boys as The Four Freshman.
Melekalikimaka is a Hawaiian Christmas song, recorded in 1977, that fans of the single Kokomo will love. Finally, Bells of Christmas brings back memories... of a Beach Boys song called Don't Worry, Baby.
The only flaws with this collection are that, first, it ends with Brian explaining it in an interview that should have been placed as track one (as a prelude to the music rather than a conclusion); and, second, that it is over in just 58 minutes and 55 seconds. But, again, the sound is absolutely glorious - such a rarity in these days of harsh CDs - and may leave you thinking that maybe Christmas should come around more than just once each year.
Highly, highly recommended!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
One article from today's USA Today (December 16, 2008) notes that people who have reached the age of 70 tend to focus on the positive. According to a Duke Neuroscientist, "Older adults... may be suppressing negative emotions to maintain emotional well-being." This is the good news.
The bad news, also from USA Today and based on a USA Today/Gallup Poll, is that 79% of the American public now sees the current economic situation "as a crisis or major problem." But, surprisingly, more people (11%) now feel their personal financial situation is excellent, the highest number polled since 2001. And fewer Americans were worried in October than they were in September about either maintaining their standard of living or paying their bills. Confusing, no?
Perhaps some of us can take comfort in the points made by Donna Birscoff of New Orleans. She first noted that the country is, indeed, in a financial crisis. "Only a moron would say that we were not." But she then focused on the positive side, "If you own your home and have no debt with an emergency fund - there is not a lot to worry about."
Our cat Munchy owns his own home -- a fiberglass Dog Hauz -- and has a big emergency stash of kibble, so we guess he's got nothing to worry about.
Photo: Joseph/Munchy Archives (Click on the photo to see a larger version. This post was updated on Wednesday, December 17, 2008.)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Paul Simon's Surprise CD was released in 2006, and we'll bet that there are a lot of his fans who own Graceland and Bridge Over Troubled Water who don't have it in their collection. So as a public service we're reprinting this review by Martin Bandyke of the Detroit Free Press from two years ago:
Rating - 4 out of 4 stars
What suprises could folk-rocker Simon have left in him at this stage of his career? Well, how about collaborating with experimental rock guru Brian Eno?
The founding member of the arty Roxy Music and producer of classics by U2 and Talking Heads might have little in common with Simon musically, but Eno's open-minded approach might have fired a creative spark in Simon, who delivers his best album since the 1986 masterpiece "Graceland."
Simon's plea for understanding among naysayers and doubters on the stunning "How Can You Live in the Northeast" might be carried by the unusual, Eno-esque backdrop of fuzzy, distorted guitars and clattering drums, but these touches serve the strong images in the lyrics perfectly.
Spritual themes dominate the emotional "Wartime Prayers," "I Don't Believe" and "Once Upon a Time There Was An Ocean," while "Outrageous" and "Sure Don't Feel Like Love" are as funny as they are thought-provoking.
But whether the subject matter is serious or lightweight, it's obvious that Simon was having a fantastic time in Eno's London studio. His vocals are filled with energy, and his lyrics are particularly smart and insightful.
The poet Brad Buchanan, who wrote Her Song of Hunger about his daughter Nora (posted earlier on this site), will be reading from his collection Swimming the Mirror this coming Friday, December 19th, at La Raza Galeria Posada in Sacramento. The reading starts at 7:30 p.m. at 1024 22nd Street.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Today - Saturday, December 13, 2008 - you can revisit and relive the greatest National Football League (NFL) football game ever played, the 1958 Baltimore Colts - New York Giants NFL Championship Game. ESPN is broadcasting this two-hour overview at 6:00 P.M. Pacific and 9:00 P.M. Eastern. The program features newly colorized game footage of the game that went into overtime at Yankee Stadium, and interviews with surviving players and some current pro football stars.
This was the finest moment in the career of the great quarterback Johnny Unitas, and will hopefully introduce the Hall of Famer to a new generation of fans.
I remember I used to really dread traveling to San Jose in the late 1970s and early 80s. Downtown was falling apart - especially when compared to Sacramento's downtown which was then on the rise - and seemed to be unsafe. The then San Jose State College (now SJSU) appeared to be isolated from the rest of the community, and most of the best lodging was near the airport.
Things are much different now, for the better. Downtown San Jose is highly developed, with both fine and inexpensive restaurants, very good high-rise hotels with state-of-the-art wireless hot spots within easy walking distance of the McEnery Convention Center, theater venues for live drama and films, The Tech Museum, a great light rail system, and other attractions such as the still-fascinating Winchester Mystery House and shopping at Santana Row.
SJSU has also benefited from a lot of attractive new buildings on campus and high quality condos surrounding the campus. SJSU and the City of San Jose joined in co-constructing the ultra-modern Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, which serves both residents and students. The King Library serves as a true town and gown facility.
Downtown San Jose now feels alive and hopeful, especially when compared to downtown Sacramento which continues to feel the effects of a poor economy. I'm headed back there next week and looking forward to my stay; yes, I know the way. Most of all I'm looking forward to having dinner at Don Pedro's restaurant at 43 Post Street, which offers authentic and very reasonably priced Mexican food.
While downtown San Jose now feels mostly brand new, Don Pedro's is a pure 1960s era style eatery. At Don Pedro's the regular patrons drink Mexican beer, speak Spanish and watch either Spanish language soap operas or soccer on the non-state-of-the-art fuzzy-picture TVs. What more could one ask for?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Back on October 18, 2008, the seventh-ever post on this blog asked the following question: A perfectly timed marathon? At that time I noted that the new Rock 'n Roll Marathon will be held in Seattle on Saturday, June 27, 2009, and the answer appeared to be in the affirmative.
The January 2009 edition of Runner's World magazine just hit the stands and notes - on page 70 - that: "The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon franchise's Seattle debut seems to have perfect timing." Validated!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Animals to get us through the day. Here are pictures of three lion cubs - one highly enjoying the warmth from a room heater behind him; and a pure white baby lion with a more standard cub - and (in the top photo) of Bandit the female dog and Satchel the kitten. You see, Satchel was brought home from the pound to join Bandit's home and she decided to nurse him. So, Satchel is sure that Bandit is his mom!
Cruising the web on my new Acer Aspire One wireless netbook and catching up on some reading. I'm a bit surprised to see an article in the Wall Street Journal (from a prior day) about Starbucks, "Starbucks Moves to Cut Costs, Retain Customers."
The WSJ article noted that the company, "... is changing tack after discovering that its most faithful customers are saving money in part by making fewer visits to the chain. New figures released by the company show that, instead of the bottoming out Starbucks predicted in October, the company's same-store sales have gotten worse. ... sales at U.S. stores open at least a year fell 9% in October and November from a year earlier."
I think the almost-free wireless service offered by Starbucks - not quite free because you have to buy and periodically reload a coffee card - is great. But I do have two small and humble suggestions for the company. First, start selling its Seattle's Best Brand brew, a wholly owned subsidiary, at Starbucks and not just - as is scheduled to occur soon - at 1,900 Subway Sandwich locations. Second, drop the awfully weak Pike Place Roast that tastes like the coffee once offered at McDonald's. I've heard several Starbucks customers say the coffee sold there is just not strong enough these days. The company should focus on dark blends like Verona (which I'm drinking as I type) and Sumatra to see if the old customers return.
Starbucks, go forth and BE BOLD!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The extremely competitive running shoes market is about to get even more so...
On January 31, 2009 - Super Bowl eve - Under Armour, generally known as a creator-manufacturer of performance sports apparel, will simultaneously release six new runners. The shoes will range in price from $85 American to $120. (Pictured here is the Under Armour Spectre.)
So is Nike worried? Not at all, responded the Swoosh's spokesman Derek Kent, "We thrive on competition." Let the battle be joined.
This letter from Stephen Hembree of Alameda, California was published earlier in the San Francisco Chronicle -
Editor - Anyone else find it a strange coincidence that gas prices plummet at the exact same time GM, Ford and Chrysler need to sell off their huge inventory of gas guzzlers?
Monday, December 8, 2008
The two football teams that will meet at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on New Year's Day share two common traditions. Both use the yell "We are... 'SC/Penn State!" And both use the motto, Fight On!
It should be a great game, although we're predicting that the Men of Troy will win by 6. Or 16. Fight On!!!
From the Associated Press, Monday, December 8, 2008:
Chicago - An influential senator drafting a multibillion-dollar bailout for Detroit's Big Three automakers said Sunday that the head of General Motors should step down, while President-elect Barack Obama accused car industry executives of a persistent "head in the sand" approach. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Banking Committe, said GM CEO Rick Wagoner has to move on as part of a government-run restructuring that should be a condition of financial life support for the auto industry. "I think you have got to consider new leadership," Dodd said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
GM spokesman Steve Harris said the company appreciates Dodd's support for the (bailout) loans, but added, "GM employees, dealers, suppliers, and the GM board of directors feel that Rick is the right guy to lead GM through this incredibly difficult and challenging time."
Sunday, December 7, 2008
This weekend's Wall Street Journal (December 6-7, 2008) contained an article, "Corporate Failures Hit Health Plans for Corporate Workers", that would seem to be unrelated to what is going on at General Motors. But, in the second part of the article, we read that in the service bay of a Chevrolet dealership in Georgia "an executive boomed over a loudspeaker that the car dealer, which had survived since the Great Depression, was closing. ... (the employees health) insurance was terminated."
Mr. G., a finance manager for the dealership, was in a panic. Why? Because he'd "bought a $60,000 BMW the day before." Now Mr. G. is selling the BMW as his family has $40,000 in medical bills and are two months behind on their mortgage.
Do you think it ever dawned on Mr. G. that by buying an expensive BMW, made in Germany, he was pounding a coffin's nail in the American corporation he indirectly worked for? Who was it that said, "Let's pay attention, people!"
The latest issue of Fortune Magazine is well worth buying to read the excellent article by Alex Taylor, "GM - Death of An American Dream: How General Motors got it wrong for so long. A corporate memoir." Below you will find a couple of brief excerpts from the article and, yes, Taylor describes the shock among reporters "on the day in October 1999 when GM revealed the Pontiac Aztek... for the first time." The oh-so-beautiful and practical Aztek. (Enough said on that subject.)
On the positive side, Taylor provides some hope that bankruptcy will enable GM to continue to survive and perhaps to even return leaner and meaner.
In working for the largest company in the industry for so long, they became comfortable, insular, self-referential, and too wedded to the status quo - traits that persist even now, when GM is on the precipice. They prefer stability over conflict, continuity over disorder, and GM's way over anybody else's. They believe that hard work will overcome adversity, and that tomorrow will be better than today - despite four decades of evidence to the contrary. In many ways the story of General Motors since the 1960s is a tale of accelerating irrelevance. Customer preferences changed, competition tightened, technology made big leaps, and GM was always driving a lap behind. It became a red-state company, its Buicks and Pontiacs seldom seen in California or New York City.
Ask Rick Wagoner why GM isn't more like Toyota, and he'd tell you, "We're playing our own game - taking advantage of our own unique heritage and strengths." Turns out GM should have forgotten that and become more like Toyota. Toyota's market cap is now $103.6 billion.
... You have to wonder whether the insular, self-absorbed culture that still dominates GM is up to the job of restructuring the company quickly enough to make it profitable and competitive again. ... As painful as bankruptcy will be, it would give GM the leverage it needs to redo its labor contracts and dealer franchise agreements, downsize the company, recruit new management, and position itself for an economic upturn... that would enable it to regain some fraction of its former glory.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
(Looking back at the 40-year plus career of Graham Nash.)
On February 3, 2009, Rhino Records will release a 3-CD collection of Graham's songs from 1967 through the near present. Reflections will take the listener on a chronological order tour of Nash's career from the Hollies to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to Crosby, Stills & Nash (CS&N), reformed for the cash. Thus, the 64 tracks will begin with On a Carnival and Carrie Anne and conclude with the previously unreleased CS&N track Lonely Man.
We expect the highlights to be the songs from his very good solo albums - songs such as Military Madness, Chicago and Barrel of Pain.
Rhino generally, although not always, gives us excellent warm-sounding remastered releases. Sadly, one notable exception was Rhino's recent re-release of the first CS&N album. Rhino's remaster took the life out of the lively CS&N and turned it into dull mush.
Let's hope they've hired better ears to supervise the production of GN's forthcoming Reflections.