Friday, February 24, 2017

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Long Road Trip Continues

Twenty-eight years ago today — January 5, 1989 — I got on a plane in Denver and flew to the frigid climes of Traverse City, Michigan, to pick up my new car. As I wrote eight years ago, “My dad had found it for me through his friend Ernie Pobuda, the owner of the Hertz used car sales office in Traverse City. My 1984 Subaru had been through some engine trouble the summer before, including a blown oil sender unit seal that nearly prompted a lawsuit with the dealer who had sold me an “extended warranty” that initially denied my claim that the seal was a part of the engine and drive train. So for $12,700 — $4,000 of which came from me selling the Subaru back to the dealer — I bought a fully-loaded 1988 Pontiac 6000 LE Safari station wagon with 5,846 miles on it.

When I arrived at the dealership, Ernie asked how much my one-way airfare from Denver to Traverse City was, and when I told him $200, he knocked that off the sale price of the car. I drove it off the lot that afternoon, and the next morning drove back to Colorado. I’ve been driving it ever since.”

And I still am, twenty-eight years later. Four years ago it became an official antique and participated in its first national Antique Auto Club of America meet in February 2013.

Through the years:

Ten years old -- January 2009

Ten years old — January 1999

Twenty years old -- January 2009

Twenty years old — January 2009

And today.

And today.

It was the car we took Sam home in when he was six weeks old and just adopted, and the car he rode in on his last journey thirteen years later. It’s been in parades, it’s delivered windows and doors to job sites, and it’s survived brutal Michigan winters and Florida hurricanes. It’s had its breakdowns and the usual expenses that come when a car has over 260,000 miles on it, and some people wonder why anyone would hang on to an unremarkable model of a car that isn’t even built anymore.

It’s hard to explain without going all pop-psychology, but as I noted in an article for the club’s newsletter, it takes me back to the simple joys of family trips, of days at the beach or the ski slope, of going to places with friends and family, and carrying on a bit of family advice handed down by my grandfather who told his sons when they were starting out in life that Pontiacs were good cars. They still are.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

At Lake Mirror

We started out the day with a light rain but by the time the cars were being brought onto the field or the streets it was clearing off and we had a great time.

The Pontiac was in a group called “Neo-Classics.”  Last year I was in “American Classics,” so I’m a little puzzled how a year older makes it “Neo” anything.

Anyway, here are some of the cars on the field.

The Pontiac in place on the street.

The Pontiac in place on the street.

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One of the many streets filled with great cars of all eras.

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The Promenade around Lake Mirror.

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1959 Oldsmobile 88.

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1929 Peerless.

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1937 Alvis Speed 25.

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Lake Mirror with the Terrace Hotel in the back on right.

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Two judges: one official, one advising.

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1927 Isotta-Franchisi.

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1942 Cadillac. The last model year before the U.S. entered World War II.

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1964-1/2 Ford Mustang.

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One of the many wooden boats in the shore takes a spin around the lake.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

On The Road Again

The switch has been flipped; the dry season is here in South Florida, and soon the snowbirds from up north will start flocking south to the sun and fun of the subtropics.  In fact, you’ll start seeing them and their cars on the road any day now…

014-1Actually, that’s me in the Pontiac down in the Keys last year on a day trip with some friends from the local British car club.  And that will be me this weekend on my annual journey to Lakeland, Florida, for the Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival.

That means that this weekend I’ll be posting pictures and stories about the show and the cars.  I think we all need a break from the madness, at least for a little while.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Reading

Why Trump Won’t Release His Taxes — The New York Times reports on how Donald Trump was able to parlay business losses into not paying federal income taxes.

Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.

The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

Although Mr. Trump’s taxable income in subsequent years is as yet unknown, a $916 million loss in 1995 would have been large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over 18 years.

The $916 million loss certainly could have eliminated any federal income taxes Mr. Trump otherwise would have owed on the $50,000 to $100,000 he was paid for each episode of “The Apprentice,” or the roughly $45 million he was paid between 1995 and 2009 when he was chairman or chief executive of the publicly traded company he created to assume ownership of his troubled Atlantic City casinos. Ordinary investors in the new company, meanwhile, saw the value of their shares plunge to 17 cents from $35.50, while scores of contractors went unpaid for work on Mr. Trump’s casinos and casino bondholders received pennies on the dollar.

“He has a vast benefit from his destruction” in the early 1990s, said one of the experts, Joel Rosenfeld, an assistant professor at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. Mr. Rosenfeld offered this description of what he would advise a client who came to him with a tax return like Mr. Trump’s: “Do you realize you can create $916 million in income without paying a nickel in taxes?”

Mr. Trump declined to comment on the documents. Instead, the campaign released a statement that neither challenged nor confirmed the $916 million loss.

“Mr. Trump is a highly-skilled businessman who has a fiduciary responsibility to his business, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement said. “That being said, Mr. Trump has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes, sales and excise taxes, real estate taxes, city taxes, state taxes, employee taxes and federal taxes.”

The statement continued, “Mr. Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for President and he is the only one that knows how to fix it.”

Separately, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Marc E. Kasowitz, emailed a letter to The Times arguing that publication of the records is illegal because Mr. Trump has not authorized the disclosure of any of his tax returns. Mr. Kasowitz threatened “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action.”

Mr. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public — breaking with decades of tradition in presidential contests — has emerged as a central issue in the campaign, with a majority of voters saying he should release them. Mr. Trump has declined to do so, and has said he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service.

At last Monday’s presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton suggested Mr. Trump was refusing to release his tax returns so voters would not know “he’s paid nothing in federal taxes,” and when she also pointed out that Mr. Trump had once revealed to casino regulators that he paid no federal income taxes in the late 1970s, Mr. Trump retorted, “That makes me smart.”

The tax experts consulted by The Times said nothing in the 1995 documents suggested any wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, even if the extraordinary size of the loss he declared would have probably attracted extra scrutiny from I.R.S. examiners. “The I.R.S., when they see a negative $916 million, that has to pop out,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.

The documents examined by The Times represent a small fraction of the voluminous tax returns Mr. Trump would have filed in 1995.

The documents consisted of three pages from what appeared to be Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax returns. The pages were mailed last month to Susanne Craig, a reporter at The Times who has written about Mr. Trump’s finances. The documents were the first page of a New York State resident income tax return, the first page of a New Jersey nonresident tax return and the first page of a Connecticut nonresident tax return. Each page bore the names and Social Security numbers of Mr. Trump and Marla Maples, his wife at the time. Only the New Jersey form had what appeared to be their signatures.

The three documents arrived by mail at The Times with a postmark indicating they had been sent from New York City. The return address claimed the envelope had been sent from Trump Tower.

On Wednesday, The Times presented the tax documents to Jack Mitnick, a lawyer and certified public accountant who handled Mr. Trump’s tax matters for more than 30 years, until 1996. Mr. Mitnick was listed as the preparer on the New Jersey tax form.

A flaw in the tax software program he used at the time prevented him from being able to print a nine-figure loss on Mr. Trump’s New York return, he said. So, for example, the loss of “-915,729,293” on Line 18 of the return printed out as “5,729,293.” As a result, Mr. Mitnick recalled, he had to use his typewriter to manually add the “-91,” thus explaining why the first two digits appeared to be in a different font and were slightly misaligned from the following seven digits.

“This is legit,” he said, stabbing a finger into the document.

Because the documents sent to The Times did not include any pages from Mr. Trump’s 1995 federal tax return, it is impossible to determine how much he may have donated to charity that year. The state documents do show, though, that Mr. Trump declined the opportunity to contribute to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Fund, the New Jersey Wildlife Conservation Fund or the Children’s Trust Fund. He also declined to contribute $1 toward public financing of New Jersey’s elections for governor.

The tax documents also do not shed any light on Mr. Trump’s claimed net worth of about $2 billion at that time. This is because the complex calculations of business deductions that produced a tax loss of $916 million are a separate matter from how Mr. Trump valued his assets, the tax experts said.

Nor does the $916 million loss suggest that Mr. Trump was insolvent or effectively bankrupt in 1995. The cash flow generated by his various businesses that year was more than enough to service his various debts.

But fragmentary as they are, the documents nonetheless provide new insight into Mr. Trump’s finances, a subject of intense scrutiny given Mr. Trump’s emphasis on his business record during the presidential campaign.

The documents show, for example, that while Mr. Trump reported $7.4 million in interest income in 1995, he made only $6,108 in wages, salaries and tips. They also suggest Mr. Trump took full advantage of generous tax loopholes specifically available to commercial real estate developers to claim a $15.8 million loss in 1995 on his real estate holdings and partnerships.

But the most important revelation from the 1995 tax documents is just how much Mr. Trump may have benefited from a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.

The provision, known as net operating loss, or N.O.L., allows a dizzying array of deductions, business expenses, real estate depreciation, losses from the sale of business assets and even operating losses to flow from the balance sheets of those partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations onto the personal tax returns of men like Mr. Trump. In turn, those losses can be used to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income from, say, book royalties or branding deals.

Better still, if the losses are big enough, they can cancel out taxable income earned in other years. Under I.R.S. rules in 1995, net operating losses could be used to wipe out taxable income earned in the three years before and the 15 years after the loss. (The effect of net operating losses on state income taxes varies, depending on each state’s tax regime.)

The tax experts consulted by The Times said the $916 million net operating loss declared by Mr. Trump in 1995 almost certainly included large net operating losses carried forward from the early 1990s, when most of Mr. Trump’s key holdings were hemorrhaging money. Indeed, by 1990, his entire business empire was on the verge of collapse. In a few short years, he had amassed $3.4 billion in debt — personally guaranteeing $832 million of it — to assemble a portfolio that included three casinos and a hotel in Atlantic City, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, an airline and a huge yacht.

Reports that year by New Jersey casino regulators gave glimpses of the balance sheet carnage. The Trump Taj Mahal casino reported a $25.5 million net loss during its first six months of 1990; the Trump’s Castle casino lost $43.5 million for the year. His airline, Trump Shuttle, lost $34.5 million during just the first six months of that year.

“Simply put, the organization is in dire financial straits,” the casino regulators concluded.

Reports by New Jersey’s casino regulators strongly suggested that Mr. Trump had claimed large net operating losses on his taxes in the early 1990s. Their reports, for example, revealed that Mr. Trump had carried forward net operating losses in both 1991 and 1993. What’s more, the reports said the losses he claimed were large enough to virtually cancel out any taxes he might owe on the millions of dollars of debt that was being forgiven by his creditors. (The I.R.S. considers forgiven debt to be taxable income.)

But crucially, the casino regulators redacted the precise size of the net operating losses in the public versions of their reports. Two former New Jersey officials, who were privy to the unredacted documents, could not recall the precise size of the numbers, but said they were substantial.

Politico, which previously reported that Mr. Trump most likely paid no income taxes in 1991 and 1993 based on the casino commission’s description of his net operating losses, asked Mr. Trump to comment. “Welcome to the real estate business,” he replied in an email.

Now, thanks to Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax records, the degree to which he spun all those years of red ink into tax write-off gold may finally be apparent.

Mr. Mitnick, the lawyer and accountant, was the person Mr. Trump leaned on most to do the spinning. Mr. Mitnick worked for a small Long Island accounting firm that specialized in handling tax issues for wealthy New York real estate families. He had long handled tax matters for Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and he said he began doing Donald Trump’s taxes after Mr. Trump turned 18.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Mitnick said he could not divulge details of Mr. Trump’s finances without Mr. Trump’s consent. But he did talk about Mr. Trump’s approaches to taxes, and he contrasted Fred Trump’s attention to detail with what he described as Mr. Trump’s brash and undisciplined style. He recalled, for example, that when Donald and Ivana Trump came in each year to sign their tax forms, it was almost always Ivana who asked more questions.

But if Mr. Trump lacked a sophisticated understanding of the tax code, and if he rarely showed any interest in the details behind various tax strategies, Mr. Mitnick said he clearly grasped the critical role taxes would play in helping him build wealth. “He knew we could use the tax code to protect him,” Mr. Mitnick said.

According to Mr. Mitnick, Mr. Trump’s use of net operating losses was no different from that of his other wealthy clients. “This may have had a couple extra digits compared to someone else’s operation, but they all benefited in the same way,” he said, pointing to the $916 million loss on Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

In “The Art of the Deal,” his 1987 best-selling book, Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Mitnick as “my accountant” — although he misspelled his name. Mr. Trump described consulting with Mr. Mitnick on the tax implications of deals he was contemplating and seeking his advice on how new federal tax regulations might affect real estate write-offs.

Mr. Mitnick, though, said there were times when even he, for all his years helping wealthy New Yorkers navigate the tax code, found it difficult to face the incongruity of his work for Mr. Trump. He felt keenly aware that Mr. Trump was living a life of unimaginable luxury thanks in part to Mr. Mitnick’s ability to relieve him of the burden of paying taxes like everyone else.

“Here the guy was building incredible net worth and not paying tax on it,” he said.

Now Is The Time — John Nichols in The Nation on expressing solidarity with Arab-Americans.

The ugly political climate of 2016 has made this a rough year for the Arab-American community.

Donald Trump’s cruel and unusual campaign has had many targets. But he has been particularly vile in his targeting of Muslims and immigrants from Middle Eastern countries.

By openly disregarding constitutional provisions that were designed to guard against religious tests and to guarantee equal protection under the law for all Americans, Trump has mainstreamed deliberate ignorance and crude bigotry. He has called for banning Muslim immigration. He had stoked resentment against Syrian refugees of all backgrounds. He has entertained the idea of compiling a national database of Muslims living in the United States. And he has opened a discussion about surveillance of houses of worship with suggestions that “we have to be very strong in terms of looking at the mosques.”

The Arab-American community is diverse. Arab Americans are Muslims and Christians; they are religious and secular; they trace their roots to many countries; some are recent immigrants but many have family histories in the US that extend back as far as those of the Republican presidential nominee. What they have in common is a shared sense of having been stereotyped and targeted unfairly in this election campaign.

Arab-Americans of all backgrounds say they feel frustrated and “exhausted” after a year of having to defend themselves from Trump’s attacks. “I was born, raised in America,” Ron Amen, a member of the large and well-established Arab-American community in Dearborn, Michigan, told NPR in a poignant discussion of the campaign. “I served this country in the military. I served this country as a police officer for 32 years. I don’t know what else I would have to prove to people like Mr. Trump that I’m not a threat to this country.

It is by now well understood that Trump’s rhetoric has fostered a climate of fear and intimidation that is not just divisive. It is, as Congressman Keith Ellison and others have suggested, a source of understandable anxiety and fear for those who Trump targets.

“He’s whipping up hatred to scapegoat a minority religious group, which has some very dangerous historic precedents,” Ellison explained last year. “I mean, it’s the kind of behavior, it’s classic demagoguery, and you know, he’s going to get somebody hurt.”

In divided and dangerous times, it is vital for rational and responsible Americans to speak up. It is important to criticize Trump when he makes bigoted statements. It is also important to express solidarity with individuals and groups that are targeted by Trump — and with organizations that push back against the politicians who stoke fear and resentment.

This is about much more than politics. This is about being on the right side of history.

That is why it mattered, a lot, when Democratic National Committee interim chair Donna Brazile on Friday joined Dr. James Zogby (the co-founder and president of the Arab American Institute who was appointed by President Obama to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2013 and who chairs the Democratic National Committee’s ethnic council) in issuing a extended statement of solidarity with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee:

The Democratic Party shares the mission of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). We stand for diversity, inclusivity, freedom of religion, and we celebrate the contributions of hardworking immigrants and Americans of all ethnicities. This year, we’ve seen a troubling rise in hateful and divisive political rhetoric aimed at Muslim Americans and immigrants, so it’s crucial for those of us who believe that our diversity is our strength to aggressively defend victims of discrimination, and to warmly welcome people of every background into our communities.

Issued to celebrate the annual convention of the ADC, a major gathering of Arab Americans and their allies, the statement declared that “the Democratic Party is proud to stand with our Arab American brothers and sisters. We look forward to working hand-in-hand to defend the rights of Arab Americans, to end stereotyping and discrimination, and to fight for the causes of peace, prosperity and security for all.”

Democrats, and responsible Republicans, have hailed the work of the ADC before.

But these words represent a welcome and necessary show of solidarity that merits notation and celebration. Because in times like these, “solidarity” must become the watchword of a more humane and progressive politics.

Havana Hustle — Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker on Donald Trump’s skirting the embargo.

In 1998, a decade after his ghostwritten memoir, “The Art of the Deal,” made him a household name in the United States, the New York real-estate developer Donald Trump sent a team of consultants to Cuba to sniff out new business opportunities. According to a story in the current issue of Newsweek, Trump paid the expenses for the consultants, who worked for the Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation. Their bill came to $68,551.88.

The payment was illegal, and was also covered up. Documents obtained by Newsweek suggest that Trump’s executives knew as much, and sought to conceal the payments by making it appear that they had gone to a charitable effort. Clearly, Trump’s company, then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, knowingly violated the long-standing U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, part of the Trading with the Enemy Act—which, as it happens, is still on the books today, despite President Obama’s restoration of relations with Cuba, in December, 2014. The embargo is a complex bundle of laws and prohibitions that have accrued over a half century and that can only be done away with by a majority vote in Congress, which seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.

If Trump’s violation of the act had been discovered earlier, the developer could have been sentenced to up to ten years in prison and fined as much as a million dollars. In 2004, the U.S. imposed an undisclosed fine on the Spanish airline Iberia for transporting Cuban goods through the United States. In 2005, an American businessman pleaded guilty to violating the embargo by selling water-purification supplies to Cuba. He and two of his associates, who pleaded guilty a year earlier, were given probation sentences, after years in court. The statute of limitations on Trump’s venture into Cuba has now run out, and he has escaped the likelihood of criminal prosecution. But by compounding the growing perception that he is an inveterate cheat and liar, it could further damage his chances of winning the Presidency on November 8th.

Trump not only violated the embargo but also took ostentatiously hypocritical positions on it. In November, 1999, less than a year after he sent the consultants to Cuba, Trump flirted with launching his first Presidential bid, as the candidate of the Reform Party, at an event hosted by the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, in Miami. Trump swore to his audience that he would never do business in Cuba until Fidel Castro, whom he called “a murderer” and “a bad guy in every respect,” was dead and gone. He added that he thought the embargo was a good thing because money spent on the island went to Castro, not to the people of Cuba. Trump received big applause for his expressions of solidarity with Cuban-Americans, and even cracked a joke that he’d oversee their victory over Communism as either “the greatest developer in the country or the greatest President you’ve had in a long time.”

During the Presidential race, Trump has altered course on Cuba. Last year, during the primary campaign, Trump said that he supported government efforts to restore relations with the island. Then, at a Miami rally two weeks ago, Trump claimed that Obama should have secured better terms in negotiations with Cuba, and that “unless the Castro regime meets our demands,” he would reverse Obama’s executive orders. Among his demands, Trump said, were “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.” The change in position received little notice at the time because of another statement Trump made at that rally: that Hillary Clinton’s bodyguards should disarm themselves, “to see what happens.”

The End of Automotive Styling — Ian Bogost on the death of the sexy car.

The automobile has become the enemy of progress. It’s an unlikely outcome, from the vantage point of the 20th century. Not that long ago, cars were still unequivocal symbols of personal power—especially in America, where basic mobility is often impossible without one.

But now cars are increasingly uncool. For one part, they’re a major source of carbon emissions, and thereby a principal cause of global warming. For another part, they’re expensive to own and operate, especially in big cities. The high-status technology, media, and finance professionals who live in cities like New York and San Francisco and the like can get around by public transit, on foot, and by bike. Elsewhere, the recession stifled car purchases and use among all demographics. Millennials just entering the workforce, who might have started buying cars had the economy been better, are more likely to have found and then acclimated to other options—including ride-hailing services like Uber.

Then there’s the robocars. Once a wild-west, self-driving are cars gaining momentum. Google has been driving robotic Lexus SUVs in Mountain View for years. Uber has begun a working trial of an autonomous fleet in Pittsburgh. Tesla has installed partially-autonomous “autopilot” in its cars for years. And finally (thanks partially to Tesla autopilot’s questionable safety record) the U.S. government has issued guidelines for autonomous vehicles, along with an endorsement of their promise for the future.

Autonomous cars are destined to become fleet cars. Services like Uber and Lyft depend on the idea that riders don’t want to own cars, but only to rent them when needed. Making the cars drive themselves removes the need for people to operate them, too—thereby snuffing out all the human pleasure associated with driving. While still hypothetical, Google’s autonomous cars will likely work the same way. Like many technology businesses, Google and Uber are based on the premise that people don’t want to own anything—whether a word processor or an automobile—but only to borrow them on-demand. Leasing a car feels much the same as owning one. The lessee is still responsible for it, still garages it, still winces at dings on its surface. But nowadays, a different kind of lease has become common: the transient usage of software-driven services that appear and disappear at whim. Google Docs leaves much to be desired, but who cares when it’s free and easy to use? A particular Uber ride might be more or less unpleasant than another, but soon enough it will drive away never to be seen again. Goods become tools, and temporary ones at that.
But yet, people do care about cars that way. Or at least, they did. As automobiles become more like online software services, travelers will become less attached to their aesthetic properties. As I’ve written about before, Tesla has already begun preparing car culture for the end of the automobile as an object of desire. The Model S is a supercar that’s as stylish as a pair of Dockers. Google’s prototype for a cute pod of a self-driving car does something similar. Uber’s early autonomous cars are about as unsexy as they come: a fleet of Ford Fusions topped with big, LIDAR hats—hardly the kind of vehicle that could adorn posters on adolescent bedroom walls. As my colleague Megan Garber put it, cars like these take the automotive logic of the 20th century— “cars as luxury, cars as freedom, cars as sex”—and flip it on its head. Now vehicles are becoming a commodity and a service. What’s less sexy than a car a bunch of other people have also recently occupied?

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The increasing un-sexiness of cars helps explain a startling, recent rumor: that Apple is in talks to acquire or invest in the British supercar company McLaren.

McLaren is best known for its Formula 1 pedigree, although the company also makes million-dollar road cars for the very wealthy. In recent years, the company has also expanded into design consulting and parts, strengths it developed thanks to the unforgiving conditions of Formula 1 racing. Estimated to be worth about $2 billion, Apple could easily snap up the company with some of its $200 billion or so in cash reserves.

Apple, meanwhile, has reportedly been developing its own electric and/or autonomous vehicle program. As with everything Apple, the company has been secretive about its plans. One thing we do seem to know about “Project Titan,” as the Apple project was code-named, is that it recently underwent a dramatic restructuring, including a number of layoffs. All is not well in Apple’s garage.That makes the possibility of an Apple partnership with automakers seem more likely. McLaren quickly denied the rumors of investment or takeover, but whether or not a partnership or acquisition will ever really happen is less interesting than what it means that the public would find one so interesting in the first place.

Some of those affinities are obvious. McLaren has been working on lighter and more efficient electric drivetrains, a feature of obvious interest to any future automaker. And Apple’s reported shift from developing a complete autonomous car to a provider of technologies for other manufacturers seems to correspond with McLaren’s strategy to use Formula 1 as a testbed for more mainstream applications. Other Apple technologies, like the iPhone in-car entertainment system known as CarPlay, offer paradigmatic examples for potential operational infrastructures for future automobiles. The “Intel Inside” of future automobiles.

But others are less obvious. In truth, the appeal of Apple’s hypothetical absorption of McLaren is most easily explained from the gut or the crotch rather than from the head or the hands. No matter the number of analysts poring over the strategic benefits of a future set of Apple-branded components and subsystems derived from McLaren inventions and installed in ordinary Fords and Hyundais, the idea of an Apple acquisition of McLaren evokes one singular and undeniable image: a sleek, dark, and perfect Apple supercar.

I can imagine it in my mind’s eye. Black or silver (or rose gold, of course), the Mac (forgive me) is a vessel where the seam between glass and metal cannot be distinguished. When a nearby owner is recognized, the gentle sigh of tamed hydraulics acknowledges him or her, engaging some heretofore unthought car door entry paradigm. Its engine hums low and bright, powerful yet winsome. If the automobile has always been a symbol of power and freedom and sex, and if everyone wants nothing more than to stroke an iPhone until it sublimates pleasure and access—just imagine how good it would feel to grip the tightly stitched wheel of an Apple-McLaren love child.

But yet, we already know that no human will soon grip any wheel, let alone that of a supercar. And so the truth eventually creeps into the dream. There will be no Apple supercar, because cars themselves are being dismantled and reinstalled as technology services.

McLaren, for example, has already spun off a consulting group called McLaren Applied Technologies, which domesticates the wild Formula 1 machine into more practical affairs: data analysis, advanced control systems, data-driven intelligent products. The Formula 1 racer inevitably must settle down into the workaday necessity of, say, “facilitating analysis of human and machine performance through advanced data analytics, algorithms and prediction.”

It’s the supercar equivalent of your favorite punk band selling its signature lick for an adult diapers jingle. The very idea of a supercar—and to some extent, of an ordinary one—is excess. A singular human being whose feet and hands pilot two tons of metal and rubber and leather and explosives from the garage to the supermarket.And yet, that is just the function that automobiles are now abandoning. Instead, cars are becoming leased appliances, made and sold with efficiency to suppliers intent on renting them out for minutes at a time to customers who would rather forget ever having been inside them. Nothing could be less sensual than the boring universe of business-to-business fleet sales—except, maybe, the boring universe of business-to-business fleet-sales component supply.Cars once lived among us, their clear-coated steel body moldings and tinted glass  windows offering counterpart to human flesh and tailored textile. But soon, they will live on the inside of technology services—as components and subsystems, just as do the microprocessors and batteries and GPS units and accelerometers that drive our smartphones. Automobiles are doomed and destined to become mere parts infrastructures for worldly conveyance. There they won’t even be seen, let alone desired. What kind of freak lusts for microprocessors?The dream of Apple’s subsumption of McLaren is a collective final breath of the automotive dream. And like that death rattle, it is both terrifying and beautiful. Even near its end, the automobile still has its wits about it. The memory of speed and power and control persists, for a moment anyway, just before it turns into yet another borrowed appliance, to be used and also forgotten.

Doonesbury — Quick, get me evidence.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday Reading

They Go Together — Robert Mann in Salon on how Donald Trump and David Duke are basically one and the same.

After watching him romp through the early weeks of the Republican Party’s primary season – spewing hate, stoking xenophobia and attacking the Washington establishment – this thought keeps coming to mind: Is Donald Trump just David Duke in a better suit?

Twenty-five years after the unrepentant neo-Nazi and former KKK leader made the runoff for Louisiana governor (then a GOP state representative, he lost to Democrat Edwin Edwards), Duke and his ideology are enjoying a renaissance, of sorts.

Last week, Duke shot back into the headlines when he urged listeners of his radio show to volunteer for and support Trump’s candidacy. Duke said his remarks were not an endorsement, but his support was enthusiastic nonetheless.

“Voting for these people [Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio], voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage,” Duke said on February 24. Anyone who knows Duke and his decades of white supremacy knows that by “heritage,” he meant “white heritage.”

“I’m not saying I endorse everything about Trump,” Duke added, “in fact I haven’t formally endorsed him. But I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action. I hope he does everything we hope he will do.”

After initially rejecting Duke’s endorsement, Trump appeared to backtrack in a CNN interview. Asked about Duke’s quasi-endorsement last weekend, Trump replied, “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?”

Trump eventually renounced Duke – he said, simply, “I disavow” – but offered nothing more than those words until after his Super Tuesday primaries victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. Safely on the other side of March 1, but just days before Saturday’s Louisiana primary, Trump finally coughed up a slightly more pointed renunciation on Thursday. “David Duke is a bad person, who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years,” Trump said.

Those were rather mild words from Trump, who is highly skilled in the art of the invective. What does it say about Trump’s supposed disdain for Duke that he has unleashed venomous attacks in recent days against Mitt Romney and Rubio but could muster only that weak insult against the former KKK leader?

Trump, however, was correct about one thing. He had, indeed, denounced Duke in 2000. That, however, was long before he launched his current White House bid and before we knew the real estate magnate as the racist he’s become.

Disavowing Duke while earning the votes of former and current Duke supporters has proved a bit more problematic. That may explain why he waited four long days to “attack” the former KKK leader. Did Trump defer criticizing Duke because he feared alienating the not-insignificant percentage of white voters in the South who have never been repelled by Duke and who are now attracted to Trump? Whatever the reason for Trump’s hesitation, it did not appear to cost him many votes in the South on Super Tuesday.

As Public Policy Polling (PPP) reported in mid-February: “Trump’s support in South Carolina is built on a base of voters among whom religious and racial intolerance pervades.”

What does that mean, exactly? PPP found that 70 percent of Trump supporters in South Carolina “think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital.” Even worse, PPP reported, 38 percent of Trump voters “say they wish the South had won the Civil War.”

Is there any doubt left that Trump’s support, at least in the South, is built on a foundation of racism and xenophobia? All of which begs these questions: What is it about Trump that Duke so admires? And what about Trump appeals to former and current Duke disciples and other racists?

Having watched Duke for 25 years, I am certain he would not support Trump unless he firmly believed they held similar views on race. To say that Duke and his supporters care about race is like saying Alabama coach Nick Saban cares about football. Duke is obsessed with race – more specifically, he is rabid about safeguarding his perceived “white heritage.”

Like Duke when he ran for U.S. Senate in 1990 and governor the following year, Trump is a master at racial dog whistles. His listeners know what he really means, even if others less attuned to his code words do not. For Trump (and much of the GOP) most of the dog whistles now summon listeners (including Duke) to hear unmistakable messages about immigration.

Duke and his supporters clearly like the way Trump talks about undocumented immigrants, particularly Mexicans.

“Anybody in this country illegally needs to be sent home. Simple as that,” the candidate has said. “We’ve had our policies that have been really wrong. We’ve had productive people been kept out. The Irish people are having a difficult time right now in Boston, where we have massive numbers of Mexicans and Haitians in the country right now and other immigrant groups who are not contributing to the country, who are loading up our welfare rolls, increasing our crime problems. They’re bringing in a lot of the dope that comes into the country.”

Actually, that quote was not from Trump, no matter how much it might sound like him. That was Duke in March 1992 at a press conference in Plymouth, Mass., as he campaigned for the 1992 Republican presidential nomination.

While Trump doesn’t pepper his speeches with references to “white heritage,” the tenor and tone of his belligerent rhetoric is remarkably similar to Duke’s – and not just on race. Trump and Duke sound very much alike when striking the pose of economic populist who will deal harshly with our trading partners.

In his March 1992 press conference, Duke insisted it was time to get tough with Japan over its refusal to allow more U.S. auto imports. He presaged the blustery Trump of 2016. “It’s about time the Japanese [open their markets] and if they’re not willing to do it, then we cut ’em off,” Duke declared. “We cut ’em off. Simple and surely as that.”

Announcing for president in June 2015, Trump said, “When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.”

When it came to driving a hard bargain – or, as Trump might put it, “making a deal” – Duke assured his 1992 audience he would do what then-President George H.W. Bush couldn’t. “If they know we mean business and we put that [protectionist] legislation into effect, I think they’ll open up their markets and there’ll be a lot of fairness,” Duke said of dealing with Japan. “I really believe that. I just believe we haven’t shown any will.”

In the quote above, simply substitute “Barack Obama” for “Bush” and you have Donald Trump speaking in 2016.

Duke also blamed weakness and lack of resolve – a constant Trump theme in 2016 – for the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. “It’s kind of the same thing that happened when the hostages were taken in Iran and Jimmy Carter didn’t do anything,” Duke said in 1992. “And the ayatollah didn’t think Jimmy Carter would do anything. And he didn’t do anything. I think the same thing’s true right now of President [George H.W.] Bush. And I think we’ve got to have a tough guy in there in the presidency who will go and look the Japanese in the eye and say exactly what I said.”

The candidate added: “When somebody doesn’t treat you properly, you gotta be tough, you gotta be strong. You can’t let them push you around.”

Actually, that final quote was not from Duke, no matter how much it might sound like him. It was Trump in January speaking to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd about Fox News.

Clearly, the two men have much in common, which is why Duke is urging his supporters to back Trump. Does that mean Trump is a neo-Nazi white supremacist, just like Duke? Who knows?

What we know, however, is this: When Duke’s admirers listen to Trump talk about immigration, trade and other issues, they hear clear, unmistakable echoes of their racist hero.

Sticking Around? — Simona Supekar in The Atlantic on the evolution of the bumper sticker.

bumper sticker bumpersticker 03-05-16It’s election season, which means an uptick in the number of car bumpers declaring their drivers’ political allegiances. The application of the political sticker is a ritual I know well: When I was younger, one of my first purposely political acts was to cover the bumper of my used 1991 Toyota Corolla with progressive-minded messages.

But the bumper sticker has its origins in a very different realm. Before they were popular campaign tools, the stickers were used for marketing of another kind: vacation spots.In 1934, the Kansas City silkscreen printer Forest Gill launched Gill-Line Productions, the company credited with producing some of the country’s first bumper stickers. In the years following World War II, Gill began experimenting with new materials, combining an adhesive with DayGlo ink to create the first self-sticking bumper sticker. The new design was a significant upgrade from the paper-and-string contraptions known as “bumper signs.”
The bumper itself had only been around since about 1910. According to Leslie Kendall, a curator from the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the earliest bumpers “were springy aftermarket devices designed to safely bounce obstructions (like oblivious farm animals) out of the way of the car, often during attempts to park”—helpful during a time when the roads were less well kept and the drivers less sophisticated.And, as it turned out, bumpers were also a boon to advertisers for national parks, motels, and other tourist attractions. Capitalizing on the wanderlust of war-weary Americans who’d scrimped and saved and were now eager to drive their new automobiles, marketers would often affix bumper stickers on tourists’ cars while they were visiting the attraction, explains Mark Gilman, the chairman of the board at Gill-Line. They were often a point of pride for consumers: “It meant that you’d been somewhere,” he says.By 1950, Gill had built a significant business selling stickers and similar products in the specialty advertising industry. The company’s first large volume request was 25,000 bumper stickers for Marine Gardens, a tourist attraction in Clearwater, Florida. But by the next decade, mass orders often skewed political: In 1968, the company printed 20 million stickers for the presidential campaign of the notorious segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace. (It has also printed stickers for candidates including LBJ, Kennedy, and Reagan.)If you look closely at a bumper sticker, you’ll likely see a label indicating which union printed it—my Bernie Sanders sticker, for example, was made by Sign Display Local 100. For this reason, Gilman says, bumper stickers are often popular with Democratic candidates. “We’re making a lot of Bernie Sanders bumper stickers this year,” he tells me.

The company has sold more than $2 million in bumper stickers this year, Gilman says, but sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. He blames it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.

Larry Bird, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, agrees that social media has played a role in the decline of bumper stickers. For Bird—a specialist in American political history and symbols—bumper stickers represent the last vestiges of the old “hurrah” campaigns of the 1950s, which were characterized by parades, painted tractor trailers, and rallies where campaigners would distribute their wares. Today, campaigning is significantly more manicured for television, and has lost what Bird calls the “thingness” that comes with receiving a button or bumper sticker from your favorite candidate.
The premise of bumper stickers, he says, is “actual physical contact and connection through that thing. In other words, I’m giving you this thing with my name on it, and I’m looking at you and you’re looking at me, we’re interacting.” It’s a more tangible declaration than a Facebook post: Postwar tourist stickers said, “I went somewhere”; political bumper stickers say, “I care about something.”A nice idea, but bumper stickers and the people who sport them are now often seen in a negative light. Kim Kardashian, when asked by talk show host Wendy Williams if she had tattoos, famously offered this wisdom: “Honey, would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?” And a 2008 study by Colorado State University researchers found that people who put bumper stickers on their cars tend to be more aggressive, territorial drivers.Even so, there’s a benefit to the bumper sticker: While we are cloistered in the tiny, antisocial world of our automobiles, these bumper stickers offer us an invitation to interact with the outside world. In his book If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers, the author Jack Bowen explained that bumper stickers all contain an unspoken if-then clause: Behind a sticker bearing the command “Imagine World Peace,” for example, is the condition, “If you can read this, then Imagine World Peace.” It’s a formulation that allows the reader to get closer, to engage in conversation, to align themselves with or against a belief.Sometimes, of course, those beliefs are outdated, vestiges of a moment when a now-obsolete slogan was in vogue; at any rate, a sticker always specifies a particular time and circumstance. Even though Forest Gill made the bumper sticker removable so many years ago, it can still be hard to get one off. Unlike social media, the bumper sticker still involves a verifiable commitment, and a simply stated one. “It says everything,” Bird notes, “while at the same time saying very little.”

Dear Bernie — Iain Reid at The New Yorker intercepts a letter from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Bernie Sanders.

Dear Bernie,

Because I, more than anyone, understand the constant stress that comes with a modern political campaign, I wanted to reach out with some helpful tips. First, and this might be most important, to emerge as your party’s leader and then to defeat the Republicans, you’ll have to listen to the people. Not a revelatory concept, I know, but you’d be amazed at how few politicians actually do it. I’ve learned that just listening can make all the difference.

Next, and this word is crucial: empathy. If you listen, but can’t empathize—well, you’re going to have a hard time implementing positive change. Now, while you’re listening, and being empathetic, if someone wants to take a photo with you, so that they can post it online, maybe with a caption about your very symmetrical face, I say suck it up and go for it. All campaigns are full of surprises, and to come out on top you’ll have to roll with the punches.

Expect anything! You might be fully prepared to talk about a proposed tax increase on the wealthiest, but instead find yourself asked to parse your “implausible good looks.” You just never really know what questions will be lobbed at you by your constituents, or why.

Which leads me to another point: policy. You have to listen, of course, and you have to be empathetic and prepared for surprises, but, at the end of the day, you still need to have a firm grasp on domestic and foreign policy.

Contention can arise from an issue as innocuous as, say, un-airbrushed shirtless photos floating around the Internet that show off your chiselled body to millions of people. I’m not here to make any insane allegations, like that these photos aren’t accurate representations of reality, because, yes, they absolutely are. There are no filters, no tricks of the camera. That’s just me. With my shirt off. That’s literally what I look like, not just in photographs.

But don’t forget, I also pledged a ton of money to infrastructure, and before people were liking those photos on Facebook, I’d already outlined my strategy in plain English. That’s the point. I can’t stress this enough: avoid political jargon. Don’t needlessly inflate your vocabulary or dumb it down too much.

The next tip should be self-explanatory. You need a thick skin. That’s why so many people just aren’t cut out for public life. To have to endure, day after day, week after week, month after month, mobs of reporters; to put up with articles and essays and think pieces, not just from your own country but from all over the world, proclaiming how “sexy” you are—although accurate, it’s all quite wearisome.

Consider it from my perspective: you spend years preparing for a federal election, you defeat the once powerful Conservatives, and then, instead of getting to defend your voting record in Parliament, or explain why modest government spending isn’t the worst evil, all you read and hear about is how you’re the best-looking world leader, probably in history.

Essentially, what I want you to understand is that you’re not going to have complete control over the narrative that gets written about you and your administration.

Remarking on my height and calling my hair “lush” and “gorgeous,” as some have repeatedly done, is flattering, sure, and not incorrect. But I’ve also really, really worked on my empathy. I’m the elected leader of a G8 country! Canada is one of the wealthiest nations in the world! There has to be more to a leader of this stature than genuinely stunning physical characteristics.

But listen: at this point, even if an interviewer wants to spend a few minutes, or longer, pointing out, interpreting, and panegyrizing my undeniable physical appeal, I’m not going to sulk or storm away. Earmark this: leadership requires patience.

Take the high road, is what I’m getting at, Bernie. This is 2016, and personal questions, even superficial ones, are fair game. Be willing to talk about the environment and pipelines, but don’t freak out when the conversation inevitably takes a turn to one of those discouraging but sincere questions you’re bound to face, on the topic of your uncommon beauty.

For better or worse, this is modern politics, and it’s the life we’ve signed up for.

Your northern neighbor,

Justin Trudeau

Doonesbury — Can you help?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Monday, October 19, 2015

Catching Up

It was a long weekend and I’m still poking through the new blurs for the last couple of days when I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to what was going on.  So I’m off to a slow start.

The good news is that we got back to Miami from Lakeland yesterday without a hitch.  That’s a whole lot better than two years ago when we had to leave the Pontiac in Sebring for ten days.  This time it was smooth ride all the way there and back again, and based on how many gallons of gas I put in the tank (10.33) after driving a little over 233 miles, the Pontiac got about 22.5 mpg.  Not bad for car of its age.

Anyway, back to work.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Street Show

Bob and I left Miami in a pounding rain yesterday morning, but by the time we were out of town the skies cleared a bit and the 250-mile drive to Lakeland was uneventful.  We are in the historic Terrace Hotel along with a lot of other car people, and we met up with some of them last evening on the hotel porch to swap stories and catch up.

One of the pre-show events is lining up a few cars on the street in front of the hotel to give passers-by a glimpse of what they’ll see at the show today.  Here are some  of them:

In the foreground is a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 560 K.  This is a rarity even among the collectors.  Behind it is a 1960 Corvette that was a class winner at Le Mans.

1001 1939 Mercedes 560K

This is a 1929 DuPont.  The company built cars in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s and competed with the top names such as Packard and Pierce-Arrow.

1002 1929 Dupont

This morning I’m getting my own car ready for the show.  The weather forecast is for partly cloudy and warm.

Friday, October 16, 2015

On The Road

I’m on the road to Lakeland, Florida, for the annual Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival.  This is the first big show of the season and a precursor to the Amelia Island Concours next March.

This is my third year with the Pontiac, and we’re ready to hit the road.  Posting will be light and variable throughout the weekend, but I will put up pictures from the show on Saturday.  If you’re in the Lakeland area, stop by and say hi.

"Okay, let's go.  That light's not going to get any greener."

“Okay, let’s go already. That light’s not going to get any greener.”

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Test Drive

The car show season is gearing up here in Florida.  Next weekend I’m going to the Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival in Lakeland, and in order to get ready for it, I took the Pontiac in to J’s Automotive last Monday for its annual check-up.  All systems are functioning within normal parameters, so today I’m giving it a test run, along with some friends of the British Car Club of Miami.  We’re going down to Islamorada in the Keys for lunch.

Here’s some shots from last year’s trip:

010

The view in the rearview mirror.

011

On the road between land and sea.

Our destination.

Our destination.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Highway Hacking

From Wired, Andy Greenberg faces a new road hazard.

I was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold.

Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass.

As I tried to cope with all this, a picture of the two hackers performing these stunts appeared on the car’s digital display: Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, wearing their trademark track suits. A nice touch, I thought.

The Jeep’s strange behavior wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’d come to St. Louis to be Miller and Valasek’s digital crash-test dummy, a willing subject on whom they could test the car-hacking research they’d been doing over the past year. The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country.

People laugh at me for hanging on to my 1988 Pontiac 6000 station wagon.  Heh.  Try to hack that.

Friday, July 10, 2015