Best-laid plans.

Here’s how the morning was scheduled: Take Kate to school, then home to repack the mojo bag (mobile journalism), swing by the mammography center for the annual you-know-what, then break free in time to catch the unveiling of the third-generation Prius at Cobo. And it all would have worked if there hadn’t been a fire alarm at the cancer hospital where the mammography center is located, which threw the proverbial monkey wrench into things. But it was probably useful, as there’s nothing like standing out in 20-degree cold with a bunch of cancer patients to make you decide things like Priuses (Prii?) aren’t all that important.

I considered bagging the m’gram entirely; I hadn’t been called yet, and so wasn’t in the position of the woman who’d gone in just ahead of me, left standing in her winter jacket over the gown, her bra and shirt in a plastic bag. But I couldn’t leave the company, and I’m not sure why. There was a woman trying to calm a young girl who obviously had a host of serious disabilities, quietly having a panic attack over the honking of the alarm. There was an old man in a wheelchair, heaped with blankets. And last out of the door serving our stairway was a young woman holding a baby, escorted by two others who were carrying an IV stand. The tube ran into the heaps of blankets and fleece keeping the two of them warm, and I didn’t know who it was attached to, but from the way the little party was acting, I suspect it was the baby. Do babies get chemo? Is it even possible for a kid not even a year old?

It cleared my head, certainly. The alarm was silenced after about 15 minutes, and after about five more, we were able to return to our individual appointments, but by then the schedule was FUBAR. I was freed from the Big Squeeze exactly 15 minutes before the Prius was scheduled for unveiling, and even I can’t drive that fast.

Fortunately, others were there. The new Prius looks a lot like the old Prius, but it’s supposedly bigger, faster, this-er and that-er.

As a consolation prize, how about a Tesla?

Smugness comes standard.

This is the Silicon Valley supercar, the all-electric totally hot totally green sports car. You need Steve Jobs’ salary to buy it — it costs well over $100K — and, well, it’s had a few problems. Daniel Lyons wrote about the car in Newsweek a few weeks back:

Tesla Motors didn’t just set out to build an electric car. It set out to teach Detroit a lesson. Back in 2003, when these guys from Silicon Valley were launching their company, they didn’t apologize for knowing next to nothing about the automotive industry. In fact, they took pride in this. They were rebels, disruptors, technogeeks operating at Internet speed—and they were convinced they could do better than the lumbering, clueless Big Three. Tesla’s lead investor, Elon Musk, a charismatic Web entrepreneur who made a fortune as a cofounder of PayPal, last year boasted to BusinessWeek that “Silicon Valley is the best in the world at everything it does.”

They must sell hubris in bulk at Whole Foods. Today, the Tesla, in Lyons’ words, is:

…a classic Silicon Valley product—it’s late and over budget, has gone through loads of redesigns, still has bugs and, at $109,000, costs more than originally planned. Tesla’s first 40 roadsters went out of the factory with a drivetrain that needs to be replaced. (Tesla will do the rip-and-replace for free.) Its second car, a sedan, has been delayed until 2011. Tesla, based in San Carlos, Calif., has raised $150 million and burned through almost all of it, plus millions more put down by customers in the form of deposits (the company won’t give an exact figure). Now, hit by the downturn, Tesla has laid off 20 percent of its staff, closed its Detroit office and borrowed money to stay afloat.

“The best in the world at everything it does.” I love people willing to say things like that on the record. You just know the followup stories will be even better.

Jalopnik really is the go-to source for auto-show blogging, at least for photos. (The Free Press and News provide a more holistic picture for Detroiters.) You can see the foxy model from my picture yesterday on Jalopnik’s, taken at the reveal of the Maserati Quattoporte. (Quattroporte means “four models.” No, wait. Let me check.)

I don’t know if I’ll make it back downtown after all. Things wrap up tomorrow at lunchtime, and then it’s Industry Days, the Charity Preview and finally the hoi polloi gates open Saturday.

A few people have asked about the pictures. Yes, they were taken with my new camera. (If you click the photos, it takes you to the Flickr page, which tells you the exact model, and if you click that, you get taken to another page that gives you everything from the price range to a selection of other Flickr pix taken with the same model.) Yes, most of them were shot on point-and-shoot settings. (I did a few on the Sports setting, to raise the shutter speed for moving rollouts.) Yes, it takes very nice pictures, but — don’t fail to consider the show floor is engineered to produce beautiful pictures, with artful lighting, lovely staging and an army of polishers who stand ready to banish any dust mote that dare show its face. Which is to say the camera is great but it’s not just the camera.

OK. I still have some paid work to do today, so I’d best get to it. A good afternoon to all. Be back whenever.

Posted at 1:42 pm in Detroit life, Media |

43 responses to “Best-laid plans.”

  1. brian stouder said on January 12, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    See, this (in a nutshell) is why women outlive men. If I was scheduled for a flatly uncomfortable (so to speak) medical exam, and then a disruptive fire alarm upended the whole plan, I’d take it as a sign from God her-own-self that I should skip it, and go on to see the shiney cars and the blingy women.

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  2. whitebeard said on January 12, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Considering how long in advance you have to make a medical apppintment, I would stay the course, wait with the others, report on a quick glimpse of humanity that surfaces when the fire alarm sounds, just like N.N. did. I’m with her.

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  3. Jolene said on January 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Brian, you sound like a man who knows his own weaknesses, which is an important strength.

    See the end of the previous thread for a link to a short article describing GM’s new approach to developing batteries for electric cars. This is a propos of the previous discussion onn how they will get the juice to operate those vehicles.

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  4. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Yep, they do chemo for kids — the remission/recovery rates are fantastic these days, not for all, but for many types of juvenile cancers that used to just kill either slow or quick. “Death Be Not Proud” is a blessedly dated book now.


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  5. nancy said on January 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I know they do chemo for kids, but this baby was maybe 6-9 months old. (And didn’t look sick at all, at least not by the chubbiness of her cheeks.) She’d practically have to have been born with cancer. Maybe she was.

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  6. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    They identify some tumors and such in utero, and often treatment is indicated post-partum only; haven’t heard of ALL being identified pre-natally, but it wouldn’t surprise me. ALL killed lots years ago, and we didn’t know what it was, or they “wasted away” and died of flu or pneumonia, and we blamed that. You can find lots of cheery reading at where they’re id-ing brain tumors in utero and pulling little kids through, even to bone marrow transplant below 1 year — they don’t tend to fall ill from side-effects as often as “healthy” adults doing bone marrow transplants, oddly enough.

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  7. Julie Robinson said on January 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Here’s how GM is affecting two families I ran into on Saturday. One worked at Joslyn Steel for 20 odd years and after it closed, barely survived for a couple of years until he was hired on at GM. Now he is facing the same process again.

    Another is a retired manager who lost his health insurance at the end of 2008 but is pretty happy because they increased his pension enough to cover his Medigap premiums. He said that was costing GM less, too, but who knows how long he will receive his full pension?

    By the way, the current employee said the FW plant is the only GM truck plant open right now. They will be shutdown in March along with the rest of the company, assuming it still exists.

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  8. Jason T. said on January 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    NPR — reporting on the Detroit International Auto Show — just said “time was when the auto show was all about gas-guzzlers on turntables and sexy models pointing at fins and fenders.”

    Yes, in 1960, the last year that most American cars had fins.

    And have they put the “gas-guzzlers” on the turntables since the early ’70s? I’m pretty sure the Chrysler Imperial is out of production.

    Aren’t those usually reserved for the concept cars?

    And we wonder why the media has a hard time explaining the auto industry bailout, or why perceptions lag reality so badly.

    Do any national reporters pay any attention to the real world? Or is it only us schmucks in the sticks?

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  9. Jeff Borden said on January 12, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I heard a GM vice president of design on the Ed Schultz radio program today. He was extolling the Chevy Volt, which apparently will be available in late 2010, along with an electric Buick and Cadillac. When Schultz asked the guy if they couldn’t speed up production on the Volt, the guy replied that this was “very much on the fast track.” He also said the batteries to power these vehicles will be manufactured in Michigan. He claimed parity with the Japanese and Europeans on technology and quality, but said Motown had the edge in design.

    If I were a betting man, I’d wager that GMC trucks and the Pontiac division (sob, sob) will be eliminated, leaving GM with just three brands. As someone who was raised in a Pontiac family (I was brought home from the hospital in a `47), I just hate thinking about the company behind the Star Chief, Catalina, Bonneville, Grand Prix, GTO and Firebird may not be around much longer. C’est la guerre.

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  10. Jason T. said on January 12, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Jeff, I feel your pain, and I think you’re right.

    As a loyal Mercury owner, I figure my favorite brand is also headed for that big junkyard in the sky.

    But as a UAW member, FoMoCo stockholder and American, if discontinuing Mercury helps to save the company, I will learn to cope.

    Although I’d still buy one of these in a minute.

    Keep your Prius and your Volt. Gimme a big shiny barge with too much engine and not enough brakes. Vroom!

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  11. brian stouder said on January 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I LOVED McGarret’s Mercury!! I owned one like it, for awhile…never liked his newer one, though

    edit – very cool pics, and a nice article, Jason! I don’t think I ever missed an episode of Hawaii Five-O….and we always had a black and white TV. Somewhere in the early ’70’s, I was at someone else’s house (Uncle Gregg’s? can’t remember) – and they had a big COLOR tv, and seeing Hawaii Five-O in color quite simply stopped. me. in. my. tracks.

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  12. Jeff Borden said on January 12, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Oh, Jason, I hear you, man, I hear you. One of the reasons I enjoy watching movies made in the 60’s and 70s is to ogle the fine Detroit iron. I well remember Steve McGarrett’s massive Merc in the same way I remember Mr. Waverly’s Chrysler Imperials in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” Peter Gunn’s 1959 Plymouth Savoy convertible, Jim Rockford’s V-8 Firebirds, even Baretta’s rattle-trap 1966 Chevy Impala. (I owned a `66 Bel Air in college, but it had the inline 6-cylinder and did 0 to 60 in roughly 45 minutes.)

    The automobiles of today are far, far better cars, but Lord, the older cars had so much more personality. The biggest sled we ever owned was my dad’s 1974 Dodge Monaco two-door with a 360-cubic-inch V-8. Smoking the tires was always a blast.

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  13. Julie Robinson said on January 12, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Well, I had a Corvair, and it had plenty of personality. Let’s see; it had no heat and leaked carbon monoxide into the passenger compartment, it broke down every time it went out of town, and oh yeah, it was unsafe at any speed. Give me my boring Caravan or Camry any day. Maybe it’s a guy thing?

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  14. nancy said on January 12, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    My mom loved her Corvair. I think I just heard her roll over in her grave.

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  15. Jeff Borden said on January 12, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    I had a 1963 VW Bug just like that except that the heat ran full blast all summer, then when it got cold, broke completely. I kept the window clear by scraping it from the inside. There were rust holes in front of the rear wheels, so whenever it rained, I had water in the car — until I jammed a bunch of old newspapers in there and created a papier mache patch.
    My point about personality is that all cars look alike. One of my more profane friends says they all look giant suppositories. . .all smooth and ovoid. But man, do they drive great. They last a long time. They have better brakes, better suspensions, better drivetrains. . .and they have safety features we never dreamed of. So, while I admire the engineering and manufacturing skills that go into then, forgive me for a pang of regret that I’ll never see a dashboard as colorful and flashy as my mom’s 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 or that I’ll never again hear the third and fourth barrels of my dad’s 1959 Pontiac Bonneville opening up when the accelerator is jammed all the way to the firewall.

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  16. Julie Robinson said on January 12, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Jeff, we had a 73 Bug with the exact same problem, I mean personality. Driving a stick while constantly scraping the inside window was something I never mastered but the DH was pretty good, and it was always entertaining to watch if a bit nervewracking.

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  17. Cosmo Panzini said on January 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    quattroporte esta four doors====wassa matta you?

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  18. jeff borden said on January 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    The Bugs were truly death traps, but the air-cooled engines were mighty sweet. I bought my `63 for $300 from a long-haul trucker who knew he could park it in an open lot, drive for a couple of weeks, and the Beetle would start right up when he got back home. It was a good learner car. I crashed it into the back of a massive LTD because I didn’t know how to drive on ice –Ford 1, VW 0– and put it in a ditch because I went into a slippery curve too fast. I made lots of mistakes and that poor car absorbed them all. And I still sold it for $125!

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  19. coozledad said on January 12, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    I seem to remember some road trips where I let one of my friends take the wheel of my ’73 Mustang Grand, while I caught a nap in the back seat. I remember waking up as the car was lurching down some badly surfaced road in PA and looking at the speedometer (I think it only registered 125, and that’s where it was pegged).
    Xcene Cervanka was on the tape deck and I feared that I would be bleeding to death while she continued to warble from the wreckage. In my best Bruce Dern voice I told the idiot behind the wheel I thought I was ready to drive again.
    He went on to run for public office in a Birkenstock village as a Naderite, or contrarian, or maybe just a passive aggressive homunculus with too much damned time on his hands. But he lost, which exponentially increased my respect for the average granola slider.

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  20. Jolene said on January 12, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    My father, who drove Buicks and Oldsmobiles, bought a VW Rabbit for my sister. He was glad to do it, as it what she wanted, but he couldn’t quite get the idea that it was a real car. Shaking his head, he said it looked like the body had been set down on a roller skate.

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  21. Dexter said on January 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Europeans turned to small diesel cars years ago but it never caught on here…no market for them. New diesel technology gives us nearly odor-free diesel cars, but the size of the cars made for Europe turns off Americans. GM was bullied into this electric direction, and today announced a Korean plant will build the battery components and ship them to an assembly plant which is supposed to be in Michigan somewhere.
    Skeptical Americans flocking en masse to order Chevy Volt cars? It’s a helluva gamble , isn’t it?

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  22. jeff borden said on January 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I still think hydrogen will be the automotive powerplant of the future. It’s never been made clear to me how battery-powered cars are green. Isn’t the manufacture and then the disposal of batteries a pretty grim business utilizing a lot of nasty chemicals and such? Hydrogen’s byproduct is water.

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  23. Hoosier said on January 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    GM exec on radio also whined because his salary had been cut, he got no bonus and no private jet; he had to stand in line at the NW counter! Poor baby.

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  24. alex said on January 12, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Jeff B, I hear ya. I note that the southern California experiment by Honda is getting surprisingly little press and the subject of hydrogen power seems to get pooh-poohed every time it’s brought up on news shows.

    There’s also surprisingly little talk about Toyota or Honda buying American makers out of bankruptcy (which is the only way anyone would touch them).

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  25. Deborah said on January 12, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Good car talk, but I’m going to bring you down with some more cancer talk. Last week a good friend of ours died. He went super fast. We had a good conversation with him Monday night at his hospice and by Friday noon he was gone. I saw him 2 other times in between Monday and Friday and it was like every time I saw him he was a completely different person physically. Great guy, it was quite uplifting to have that conversation with him Monday night. He faced his death with no compunctions, he was open and forthright. I’ve never had a conversation like that with anyone before. I hope I can be like that when it’s my time. His funeral is Thursday.
    Of course, I ran right home and made my appointment for my routine mammogram, guess what my earliest appointment date is? Dec 10, 2009!!!! They say there is a shortage of radiologists worldwide.

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  26. Dexter said on January 12, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Sorry for your loss, Deborah. Last August, Gene Upshaw, the football union leader, was DXd with pancreatic cancer on a Sunday and was gone by the following Wednesday.
    My friend here in town has one of those fast-spreading cancers — one round of chemo and then sent home…no further treatments are indicated…he’s just waiting now….
    “Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light. “…Dylan Thomas, 1951

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  27. Dexter said on January 12, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    ..time to get back to basics: Henry’s first Ford—

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  28. Julie Robinson said on January 12, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Omigosh, Deborah, you can get an appointment in a week or two here. That’s unbelievable. And I talked with those GM people at a funeral for a woman at our church who battled cancer for something like 10 years, and yet was never less than dignified and full of grace. What a rotten disease.

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  29. beb said on January 12, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Tesla Motors: Elon Musk is also the driving force behind SpaceX,a private company trying to reinvent the rocket. They’re one of two companies being encouraged by NASA through their COTS program (commericial freight haulers to the space station. People are into those who think SpaceX will be the next best thing since sliced bread, those who think it’s going to be a money pit and the rest of us who are taking a wait and see attitude. The comment that Tesla thinks it knows better than Detroit because they’re Silicon Valley seems to apply to SpaceX as well.

    Jason T. asks “Do any national reporters pay any attention to the real world?” I started by reading lefty political blogs and it quickly became apparent that the answer is “no, they do not.” They make things up, fall for narratives that have no basis in reality and harangue people for sins that only the reporters ever considered relevant. No offense intended to Nancy and her fellow journos on this blog.

    My wife’s mom had a Corvair, which she loved. My wife’s first car was a VW circa 73. Drive that car til the floorboard and one front end shock were replaced with jury-rigged parts. The engine really was a model of reliability.

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  30. Dexter said on January 12, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    …my wife says here in NW Ohio it takes a week for a mammogram appointment, FWIW….we have had scared-as-hell issues in the past ten years …both times, no breast cancer…I stare at the ceiling all night the night before her tests.

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  31. jcburns said on January 12, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Hydrogen’s byproduct is “Oh, the humanity!”


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  32. CrazyCatLady said on January 13, 2009 at 12:38 am

    I learned to drive in a Corvair Monza. It was a convertable and it was a manual shift. What fun! Then in 1974 I bought a brand new VW Beetle, bright orange. $3000. I drove that thing till it died, and loved it -no heat, no air, floorboard rotted away and I could see the road at my feet. Now I have a PT Cruiser, and I love it too. Even tho my kid calls it an old folks car.

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  33. Rana said on January 13, 2009 at 2:15 am

    Deborah, I’m sorry. That’s sad news.

    On cars… my first car was a ’69 VW Bug that my dad bought for $700. In what now strikes me as uncomfortably coincidental, the previous owner was a woman dying of brain cancer; one of the conditions of the sale was that the car keep its name (Orange Julius). Eventually my dad decided that the car needed a new paint job and it went back to the original red but it remained Julius.

    There were many things that were “iffy” about that car – the heater that melted a wallet together, the puny wiper blades, the wimpy engine – but much to love too. It had so much room in it for a car that size, and I loved that the engine was simple enough that I could literally fix it with electrical tape and dental floss and a wrench. Its removable back seat was the couch in my first apartment, and its roofrack the coffee table. It also had a random button on the dashboard that did nothing except light up when you pushed it, and I loved the idea that, since Bugs are water-tight (when not rusted out), I could float the car if I ever needed to.

    My current car’s not a bad match for its personality – a Honda Civic hatchback named Tiberius – and I am grateful that it’s much more reliable than my poor Bug ever was.

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  34. John said on January 13, 2009 at 8:01 am


    I think you just greased the skids some more there. I’m laughing so I know that I’m on the fast track pre-loaded with a hand basket.


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  35. nancy said on January 13, 2009 at 8:17 am

    There was an OSU football player in Columbus around the time that Bugs were the standard-issue college-student car. His had a custom paint job that duplicated his helmet, right down to the buckeyes on the side.

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  36. brian stouder said on January 13, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Say, being the end of the thread and all, here’s a non sequitur

    A guy at work has, for wallpaper on his computer, a picture that made me look twice, and then a third time. At first, it looked like the remnants of a large, smashed stainless steel tank…but on closer inspection, it was a building. In fact, it is a Spanish winery, and of course – all the nearby vineyards now compete to have the most striking architecture.

    You learn sumthin’ new everyday

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  37. brian stouder said on January 13, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Another non-sequitur – now here’s the sort of “bail out” that all of our financial Masters of the Universe should be treated to (although maybe no parachute for Madoff)

    an excerpt:

    INDIANAPOLIS – Marcus Schrenker presented himself as a high-flying pilot with the nerves to pull off aerial stunts and as an investment manager with the brains to make portfolios soar. He bought luxury automobiles, two airplanes and a $4 million house in an upscale neighborhood known as “Cocktail Cove,” where affluent boaters often socialize with cocktails in hand.


    By Monday, the descent was complete after he apparently faked a distress call, bailed out of his small plane and then let it crash in a Florida panhandle swamp.

    and lastly

    The e-mail was the latest in a series of strange twists in the case. Earlier Monday morning, the man with Schrenker’s license told police in Childersburg, Ala. — about 225 miles from where the plane crashed — that he’d been in a canoe accident with friends. He was wet from the knees down. The officers, unaware of the plane crash, took him to a hotel. He was gone by the time they returned. They learned he paid for his room in cash before putting on a black cap and running into the woods next to the hotel.

    As they say – “…developing”

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  38. coozledad said on January 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Brian: Obama’s going to have to decriminalize simple possession to clear out enough space in the the prison industrial complex to house this raft of human garbage.

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  39. MichaelG said on January 13, 2009 at 11:19 am

    JC, your Hindenburg reference isn’t a joke at all. It’s the plain truth about hydrogen. Hydrogen is one of the most volatile substances there is. One of the big questions about powering automobiles with it is where do you make it? Do you have some kind of hydrogen generator on board to make it as you use it? This increases weight, complexity and cost of the vehicle. Do you make it at some sort of distribution point and sell it? Can you imagine filling a car with this stuff? Carrying a load of it around? Your car would be nothing more than a bomb.

    What percentage of cars on the road today is powered by an alternate (including hybrid) energy source? Two percent? Three? They’re niche vehicles today.

    All the emphasis, all the hype about electric, etc. cars at the Detroit show scares me. They are not Detroit’s bread and butter. They are not the cars that people buy and more to the point they are not the cars that earn $$ for Detroit.

    I don’t want to be a nay sayer and I certainly applaud Detroit for aggressively researching alternate automotive power sources. The fact is, what Ford, GM and Chrysler need this minute are cars to compete with the Civic and the Accord. The Camry and the Corolla. These are cars actual people actually buy. I don’t have the time or the space here to go into this in detail but what we have at the Detroit auto show is a classic example of the automakers selling the sizzle, not the steak. At the end of the quarter, the electro hypo research and development vehicles are an expense. What’s on the showroom floor that’s going to bring in the profits? Where’s the bread and butter vehicle that’s going to support the Big ____ (fill in the number)?

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  40. brian stouder said on January 13, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Do you have some kind of hydrogen generator on board to make it as you use it?

    and if you DO – how long before some shade-tree nihilist uses that process maliciously? Molotov cocktails are bad enough; we don’t need exponentially more powerful ones.

    BTW – Federal agents say that the Indianpolis bail-out guy had a motorcycle hidden in the woods. What the hell kind of “planning” was this? He wanted the plane crash because….then he’d be presumed dead?

    This will make an interesting movie someday, when the ratio of infuriating:funny swings into “funny” territory

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  41. Rana said on January 13, 2009 at 11:44 am

    MichaelG – that’s a very good question. As we’ve been discussing these hybrid and electric cars I kept thinking about this one bit I saw in the NYTimes Magazine about fuel efficiency, and I finally tracked it down. Gallons Per Mile makes the intriguing argument that it’s far more important to improve average vehicle efficiency on the low end than the high end. Here’s the part that struck me in particular:

    Larrick emphasizes that his long-term goal is to get everyone into the most fuel-efficient vehicles that exist. But right now, he says, “as a national-policy question, the urgency is getting people out of the 14-m.p.g. vehicles.” And m.p.g. ratings aren’t the most useful prod, largely because the real significance of differences in m.p.g. is often counterintuitive. The jump from 10 to 20 m.p.g., for example, saves more gas than the one from 20 to 40 m.p.g. The move from 10 to 11 m.p.g. can save nearly as much as the leap from 33 to 50 m.p.g.

    Consider the much-mocked S.U.V. hybrids, which seem to offer only incremental gains. Someone who trades in an all-wheel-drive Cadillac Escalade (14 m.p.g.) for an Escalade hybrid (20 m.p.g.) would save 214 gallons of gasoline over the course of 10,000 miles.That’s about as much fuel as would be saved by two people currently driving 33-m.p.g. cars who switch to 50-m.p.g. hybrids, assuming everyone drives the same distance.

    The thing is, though, that it’s far easier to make tweaks to small, expensive, high-end cars aimed at buyers who will tolerate their quirks for the cachet owning one brings, than it is to reform an entire fleet of larger vehicles, especially ones that have been marketed as safe and powerful on account of their size and weight.

    In other words, if the automakers were really looking to the future, they’d be figuring out how to increase efficiency and reliability in their basic model cars, rather than putting all that research money into whiz-bangs that will make up only 1%-5% of the market at best.

    Are they still fighting increased CAFE standards tooth and nail?

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  42. nancy said on January 13, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Michael, to some extent, every auto show is a sizzle-not-steak affair, and before you dismiss this one outright, consider the position of the carmakers: They’re told they have to come up with a plan for this mythical green future, to “make the cars Americans want to buy.” (Never mind the 8 million they already bought last year.) They already have inventory that equates to the Accords and Camrys, that’s affordable and fuel-efficient.

    But people don’t want to hear that. They want a magic bullet, and so that’s what they’re firing. Surely, most of these concepts and pie-in-the-sky models will be a long time coming. In the meantime, it would help if we looked at energy use and emissions at a more basic level, quite literally stuff like making sure our tires are inflated properly, driving less and, as we discussed here earlier in the week, buying smaller cars like Aveos and Yarises. That’s why that Tesla makes me laugh. Isn’t that what every rich asshole wants? A zoom-zoom sports car that makes him feel virtuous?

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  43. MichaelG said on January 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    OK, one last word, Nance. I don’t want to drag this out too far. Of course the Auto Show circuit is about sizzle. But this year the sizzle is different from other years. This show has an entirely different character. As you say, the customers are different from other years – the people who populate the dome in DC. To date they haven’t shown themselves to be very informed consumers. Look at the $350 Bil they shelled out a few weeks ago for nothing.

    The auto companies don’t have anything to compete against Honda and Toyota and VW. That’s the whole point. These outfits have been eating Detroit’s lunch for years. Having some product available for sale in a market segment is not the same as competing in that segment. Let me repeat: “The fact is, what Ford, GM and Chrysler need this minute are cars to compete with the Civic and the Accord. The Camry and the Corolla.” Go rent a Honda Civic and then rent a Chevy Cobalt. You’ll see a major difference. The American consumer certainly does.

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