Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rant: Canadian Hockey

Are Americans as self-congratulatory about a Little League World Series championship as Canadians are about the world junior hockey title?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"A Real Bailout for Auto Makers"

This is an email that I sent to the editors of Barron's Online today, refuting the oft-cited reasons for a Big 3 bankruptcy-type restructuring:

Sir,

Re - "A Real Bailout for Auto Makers" (November 29) - I'm perplexed about where Jay Palmer and other journalists are obtaining their information about the domestic automobile producers.

A few comments on some of Mr. Palmer's assertions:

"Proponents of a filing say that the companies would get the bankruptcy courts' blessing to trim labor costs, change work rules, revise health-care and pension benefits, trim their dealer networks, shrink their North American operations quickly and do other things that could lead them back to profitability."
1. Labor costs - these were slashed in the 2007 UAW negotiations, which Wall Street analysts cheered, that assured domestic producers labor cost parity with Japanese transplants by 2010 when all post-retirement health care obligations are off-loaded to the union and a lower-paid tier of workers replaces retiring workers.

2. Health care benefits - as of 2010 the domestics will pay no retiree health care and they have already negotiated massive cuts to US active worker health care

3. Trim dealer network - this is the one aspect of a government-sponsored reorganization that would help, suspending the anti-trust laws that prevent eliminating dealers, but would require billions in cash outlays - killing Oldsmobile, just one brand - cost over $1 billion.

4. Change work rules - GM plants are now as lean or leaner than any Toyota plant in North America. The plants where the local union doesn't play ball, e.g., Pontiac East Assembly, have been closed already. GM and Ford plants consistently beat Toyota and Honda on productivity and quality. I have no idea as to what work rules Mr. Palmer has in mind, unless he wrote this column in 1992.

5. Revise pension benefits - this has been done for current US employees for the most part, but more could be done.

6. Shrink North American operations - done. If the GM and Ford shrink their manufacturing footprints any further they won't be able to produce enough cars and trucks when the car market recovers. All they can do now is improve their cost base by closing US and Canadian plants and moving production to Mexico, but I doubt that Congress would want public money used in this way.

Here's my favorite:
"Essentially, GM, Ford and Chrysler just aren't making enough cars and light trucks that U.S. customers want to buy -- and haven't for years."
Last year 3.2 million U.S. customers bought GM products. The next closest was Toyota which sold 2.2 million products. Even Ford, another seller of cars that people don't want to buy, sold almost as many cars as Toyota - 2 million. Why are these U.S. customers buying these cars that they don't want to buy? What the author must mean is that these companies don't make cars that he wants to buy, but business journalists are hardly a representative sample of the North American automobile market.

Another gem:
"On top of this, labor relations are so out of whack that GM even pays some 8,000 workers a full salary to stay at home."
In the 2007 UAW negotiations, Detroit eliminated its "Jobs Bank" in the US that created this phenomenon. These employees have almost all been permanently severed. What should they do? Sever them again?

I do agree that that GM needs to eliminate brands, but as Mr. Palmer points out, it would cost at least $9 billion and I'm not sure that this should be done now with public money.

None of this fixes the real problem that Detroit is faced with today. They have spent billions of dollars fixing all of these problems that oblivious journalists and politicians are calling for today. Today, the restructuring is pretty much complete, but the war chest is gone, financing from operations has dried up in the face of the smallest domestic automobile market since the early 1980s, and their financing arms can't raise money.

If these companies use a pseudo-bankruptcy or a cash infusion to do further "restructuring", as Mr. Palmer suggests, how pray tell will they fund ongoing operations? And how will bankruptcy, or some form thereof, help these companies sell more cars or bring back a leasing option?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Everything I Love: Oldsmobile


In the early 1980s, afraid of being mistaken for the Kingsway's only Volvo-driving socialists, my parents acquired the grandest of American sedans - the Oldsmobile 98. Built at Lansing Car Assembly, the Olds was painted black with beige leather interior (useful when driving kids in wet bathing suits), a roaring V8, and industrial strength shocks - a special request by the previous owner. This boat ferried us up and down Highways 401, 37, 7, and 17 for many years. 20 years later, on mornings when my own boat is sailing over the 401's bumps near the Ajax Go-Train station, I often consider how that Olds 98 must have caught air over the same stretch.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rant: Cubicle Cuticles

Is there a more offensive sound than the pinging of a co-worker clipping his nails?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Top 5 Chicken Wings

My apologies for being off the radar of late, I had some exam-writing to do.

Moments ago, I weighed in on a discussion about chicken wings between the Road Hammer and the Webber. The Hammer alleges that Local Heroes, an Ottawa sports bar, disguises turkey wings as poulet. These wings, retched as they are, are too small to be turkey wings and are more likely pried off a seagull or pigeon. The Parking Lot's picks for best chicken wings:

1. St. Louis' Bar & Grill (anywhere)
2. Gabby's Bar & Grill (Bedford & Bloor, Toronto, Ontario)
3. Lou's Bar & Grill (Kitsilano in Vancouver)
4. Boston Pizza (anywhere)
5. Ring-A-Wing (Oxford St., London, Ontario)

Surprisingly, the Anchor Bar - birthplace of buffalo wings - in Buffalo, New York, doesn't even come close to making the list. The beef on weck is to die for, however.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Energy Conservation

Authorities in Ontario are asking people to use air conditioning sparingly to reduce the pressure on the power grid during the present heat wave. When exactly should we use our air conditioning - November?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

From the Couch: Balsillie Behaviour

As a non-hockey fan, following the NHL's dithering over Jim Balsillie's attempted Nashville Predator purchase has been fun. At first I thought it would be impossible for the Board of Governors to refuse the RIM co-founder's offer, but increasingly it's looking like Skeelo's prediction that his in-your-face style, and the commissioner's bruised ego, may deep-six the deal. Hard to believe that hurt feelings are worth walking away from over $230 million, risking a possible lawsuit from Balsillie, and an anti-trust investigation.

This whole time, I keep wondering why, after almost twenty years, the NHL hasn't figured out what CFL learned in less than five - that sports, like food and toilets, is a tough cultural export.

Monday, June 18, 2007

McGuinty to Ban Pollution

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2014.

He also promised to close all coal-fired generating stations by this year, roll back Highway 407 tolls, stop public-private hospital partnerships, and not raise taxes.

Given the value the premier assigns to honesty, he may as well have promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6 percent below 1690 levels. While he's at it, he should promise free beer on Victoria Day and a day off for everyone on their birthday.

Update: According to the Globe & Mail, McGuinty's response to critics who called him on his broken coal plant promise was that "it will be more difficult to wriggle out of his latest promise because it will have the force of law". Funny how the "force of law" didn't stop him from breaking the balanced budget law.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ken Hobart Tribute III

In 1989 the state of football in Ottawa couldn't have been any worse. It had been eight years since the Rough Riders had been to the Grey Cup and thirteen years since they'd won it. Coming off Super Season '88, when they managed to win only two games, the desperate team hired marketing superstar Jo-Anne Polack as general manager. Polack poached free agent Damon Allen from Edmonton where he couldn't escape the long shadows of Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham. Allen as saviour became the focus of Polack's "Rider Rage" marketing campaign, along with running back Orville Lee and kicker shanker Dean Dorsey. 1989 also saw the arrival of one of the worst coaches ever to pace a CFL sideline, Steve Goldman.

The Riders were en route to a Super Season '88 sequel, with a 2-11 record, when Allen went down with torn ligaments in his throwing hand. With two games left in the season, the Riders' record was 2-14, back-up Willie Gillus was injured, stop-gap Tony Kimbrough had proven hopeless, and a defensive back had been taking snaps from centre. Polack went searching for hope to salvage "Rider Rage" and it came in the form of Ken Hobart. As he had done at Idaho and in Hamilton, Hobart stepped up to beat Winnipeg in back-to-back games, Ottawa's first consecutive wins in half a decade and doubling Ottawa's win total.

The next season, every time Damon Allen faltered, the "Ho-bart" chants rained down from Lansdowne Park's south side upper deck where Byron Smith, "President of the Southsiders for Life", whipped up the ham 'n eggers into an anti-Allen frenzy. Frustrated watching the hapless Allen, Hobart would stir the crowd by donning his helmet and warming up on the sidelines. Goldman, who had never wanted Hobart back for the 1990 season, made the worst of many bad decisions when he released the fan favourite. For the 1991 season, Ken Hobart was back home in Idaho, Allen threw 31 picks, and Goldman was canned after four games, but the southsiders were relentless with their chants of "Ho-bart". To this day fans torment Allen with these heckles.

Despite only starting for one year and being active for less than five, Hobart concluded his CFL career as the leader among quarterbacks in rushing.

Today Ken Hobart lives in Lewiston, Idaho, with is wife and three children where he sells billboard advertising and real estate. He remains active in football as the colour commentator for University of Idaho Vandals' football and supervising the development of his son Zack, a quarterback himself.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Imagining the Freedom

I came up three numbers short for Wednesday's Lotto 649 $40 million jackpot. Had I won, after making the appropriate disbursements to friends and family, I would have picked up the following:

  1. Chevrolet Silverado
  2. Simmons Sea Skiff
  3. A farm in the Madawaska Highlands
  4. The Airstream trailer for sale at Highway 7 & Ferguson Falls Rd.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rant: Business Words

I've recently discovered a hideous term: buy-off. This awkward combination of "buy-in" and "sign-off" is used in the following manner, "we'll need buy-off from three people before we can send the document".

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Six Blind Mice

Am I the only one who thinks that a table of six professional poker players, all wearing wrap-around sunglasses, looks like gaming night at the Perkins School for the Blind?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ken Hobart Tribute (II)

Following his success at Idaho, Ken Hobart rode the bench in 1984 for the USFL's Denver Gold, throwing for a touchdown and 576 yards, and rushing for another 160 yards and a touchdown. In the NFL supplemental draft that year, Hobart was drafted 10th overall by the New York Jets, ahead of future NFL stars Ricky Sanders, Gary Clark, and Mel Gray.

Although he later regretted the decision, Hobart never took a snap in the NFL, landing in Hamilton for the 1985 CFL season where he lit up the league as a rookie. Rushing for an unprecedented 928 yards, he won the Jeff Russell Memorial Trophy for the most outstanding player in the eastern division. To this day, Hobart shares the record for most touchdown passes in a playoff game, having thrown five on November 17, 1985 in a win over Montreal in the eastern final. In a championship loss to the BC Lions, Hobart never quit, scrambling for his life and throwing three touchdowns.

Hobart was replaced by Mike Kerrigan the next season, but took home a Grey Cup ring as a member of that championship team, playing a couple of series late in the game. Eventually Hobart was cut loose by the Ti-Cats and bounced around, stopping in Regina long enough for a cup of coffee before returning to Idaho for what he thought was the quiet life of a retired CFLer in the American west.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Blogrolling: Three Beautiful Things

Three Beautiful Things is a catalogue of observations and experiences that make Clare Grant feel good. Clare, an English writer, has described over 3,000 beautiful things since starting the blog in 2004. Aside from the appeal of an optimistic site in a medium that otherwise tends toward ranting and raving, this blog is a cut above the rest thanks to the elegance of Clare's writing - both its expression and its simplicity. Here are 3BT's in the Parking Lot today:

  1. Overwhelming relief, discovering that a certain orange cat had not escaped through a door left ajar by movers.
  2. Seagulls waddling obliviously from right- to centre-field at Comerica Park in Detroit.
  3. The sweating can of Bud Light waiting for me in the fridge.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Everything I Love: The Green Valley Restaurant

One of the highlights of visiting my grandparents in Ottawa as a child was dinner at the the Green Valley on Prince of Wales Drive. Before it was destroyed by fire on New Year's Eve a few years ago, the Green Valley served the best continental menu on... well, the continent, for almost seventy years. For an eight year-old, it was the best of everything - the quiet evening drive through the Experimental Farm, past the barns where my grandfather and I had visited the animals earlier in the day, exploring the gift store's toy section while we waited for our table, a Shirley Temple cocktail with a plastic monkey hanging from the rim, the monster cheeseburger and thick-cut fires, and - of course - the Mickey Mouse ice cream sundae with green maraschino cherry eyes staring up at you as you dug in.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rant: Starbucks Employee at Tim Horton's

There are two things that a Tim Horton's employee must be able to do: distinguish between milk and cream, and make change. Thus, it's with great irritation that, from time-to-time, I overhear Tim Horton's cashiers like the guy at Bedford and Bloor:

“Oh you wanted a small chocolate milk, oh you’ll have to excuse me - too much punk music... The triple chocolate donut? I’m sorry, that was a one-month special, we’re now offering our caramel cappuccino donut, which I just die for, but I swore it off a week ago.”
Banter is not in the job description.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Attawa Senators

Seriously, somebody in San Jose found this blog today by searching for (the presently imploding) "Attawa Senators". My tutorial on the pronunciation of the city's name can be found here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reminiscing: Simon & Simon


I haven't watched or read anything lately to review so, instead, I'm offering an uplifting blast from the past - one of the three best television introductions of all-time - Simon & Simon. How come fun shows like this were left in the 1980s? If anyone wants to go halves with me on a Power Wagon and start a private detective agency, please email me at the address on the sidebar.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Toronto FC

I endured a sweltering Saturday afternoon at BMO Field to see the Toronto FC edge the Colorado Rapids for the new team's third victory. As a non-soccer fan I was pretty skeptical going in, but I walked away impressed with the game and the show surrounding it.

BMO Field is a spectator's facility with great sight lines - even if the seat spacing is a bit intimate for my liking. The concessions look promising, although nobody was ordering meat pies in Saturday's forty-degree heat and I don't care what anyone says, nothing but nothing is as refreshing as ice cold light beer, which was nowhere to be found among the many Euro-brews.

The game itself was riveting, with plenty of action packed into a quick two hours, though I'd caution other neophytes to go with someone versed in the game to answer questions. Without a doubt, the show's highlight is the whistle-to-whistle energy of the fans, particularly those chanting and singing in the stadium's south end. Truth be told, I felt like a Presbyterian at a Catholic wedding - a tad unnerved with all the ritual and imported tradition.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ken Hobart Tribute (I)

To celebrate the opening of Canadian Football League training camps this week, the Parking Lot is pleased to pay tribute to a long-forgotten, but half-decent quarterback, Ken Hobart.

Before Damon Allen was professional football’s all-time leading passer, he was a hapless goat who threw enough interceptions to make him a pariah among Ottawa Rough Rider fans in his first season with the team in 1989. Later that season, from the potato patches of Idaho, Ken Hobart emerged as the saviour for the ham 'n eggers sitting in the south side stands at Lansdowne Park by winning two games, thus doubling Ottawa's wins for a respectable 4-14 season. Long after Hobart had returned to the simple life in Lewiston, Idaho, Southsiders would dog Allen with extended moans of "Ho-bart, Ho-bart". The Southsiders, originality not their strong suit, continued hurl this epithet at Allen's successors who had no idea what they were referring to.

Although it's his off-the-tractor performance in 1989 that many of us remember, Ken Hobart was more than just a flash-in-the-pan back-up. He was a natural athlete and leader who came through for his teams, making do with the situations given to him. As a walk-on at the University of Idaho, Hobart established himself as a prolific running quarterback in coach Jerry Davitch's option-play offense. When Davitch was replaced by Dennis Erickson and his spread passing offense, many wondered whether Hobart, who had barely thrown the ball under Davitch, could keep his starting role. Quickly adapting to the new Vandals' offense, Hobart emerged as a talented passer, being named All-American in 1983 en route to becoming only the second player in NCAA history to pass for 10,000 yards, setting 12 Division I-AA records, and crushing rival Boise State 45-24. Today, the "Kamiah Kid" is ranked the 45th greatest athlete from Idaho by Sports Illustrated.

Click here for Ken Hobart Tribute (II), the Grey Cup years.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Blogrolling: Fishing Jones

Fishing Jones is one of the web's premier fishing blogs, doubling as therapy for Pete McDonald, a self-confessed fishing addict. As a technical editor for Boating Magazine, Pete's extensive travels give him many fishing adventures to share, be them in Bimini, Alabama, or Michigan. While he works in New York where he chases bluefish and albacore tuna off Long Island, Pete's home waters are in Florida and his most passionate posts are ones where he recounts trips to his secret peacock bass locations. One of the dangers in reading Fishing Jones is that Pete will periodically post videos that'll make you wish you were fishing for blue marlin instead of sitting in that meeting that starts in ten minutes.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Everything I Love: River Fishing

The Iv'y Rod & Gun Club assembled yesterday on the banks of the mighty Grand River at Caledonia, a town known as much for its indian wars as for its warm-water fishery. We all played our part yesterday - me stomping around mid-stream to spook the fish, RG catching every tree in Haldimand County on his back casts, Uncle Alec sleeping in the dirt like a true trout bum, and Pastor T actually catching fish. Though our quarry was catfish and we kept catching (and releasing) out-of-season smallmouth bass, the fact that my wild false casting didn't put a fly in my ear made this adventure as an unqualified success.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Maybe I'll Start That Diet Tomorrow...

In February, Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA, cooked the world's largest hamburger, an 80 lb. beef patty garnished with 12 tomatoes, 5 onions, 160 cheese slices, a pound each of lettuce, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise (h/t, the Webber). This may call for a road trip...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Toronto's Garbage

The City of Toronto has decided that it will compete directly with Canadian Tire and Home Hardware by selling garbage cans to reduce household refuse. Well, it's not really competing since residents will be compelled to buy one of the City's receptacles. One's garbage collection fee will be the price of the container, a function of its size. While I'm a fan of user fees in general, am I the only one who thinks that a $300+ jumbo container will last no more than two garbage days before it's nicked?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Everything I Love: Sour Grapes

Tonight on Buffalo's WGR 550, Chris "Bulldog" Parker asked whether Buffalo Sabres fans can, in good conscience, root for the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup finals. Bulldog himself hopes that the Senators are annihilated because, although he loves Canada because he loves hockey, he's too bitter about the Sabres' defeat in the semi-final. Seems counter-intuitive to me, since what does that say about Buffalo if the Sens are swept by Anaheim?

The humiliation for Bytown, however, was when the Team 1200's Lee "The Franchise" Versage called in from Ottawa to plead for Bulldog and the Buffalo fans to cheer for the Sens because the two cities have so much in common. No they don't, Lee, and to steal a line from a very good friend of mine, your call embarrassed me and it embarrassed yourself.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rant: The Political Panel

Partisan political punditry used to represent the worst in televised politics. Discussions between politicians or their advisors are pointless since they seldom answer questions or address one another's arguments, preferring to parrot the party line. A rare exception was a panel on CBC radio's Morningside on which Stephen Lewis, Dalton Camp, and Eric Kierans had candid discussions about Canadian politics in the 1990s. My guess is that they never received their parties' talking points because party hacks thought they were all dead.

These panels used to be the intellectual basement for televised politics, until pseudo-celebrities started debating serious issues on this gong show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Canadian City Pronunciation: Toronto

Last week I reviewed the correct pronunciation of Ottawa. Today we look at Toronto, a city name butchered by Canadians and foreigners alike. "Toronto" is pronounced "Tronno", like the 1982 Bruce Boxleitner flick with a "no" on the end. When said with a clipped southern Ontario accent, it comes out sounding like "Chronno", with a "ch" sound as in "chips". While many wince at the "To-RANT-o" commonly heard in places like Windsor, the real fingers-on-the-chalkboard version is the over-enunciated "Toe-RON-Toe" employed by the city's mayor, David Miller, who is not actually from the city and should generally be ignored.
Photo credit: JamSki

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review: Spider-Man 3

Movie adaptations of comic books are good when there are lots of fights with ghoulish villains. In Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man fights with decidedly un-ghoulish villains played by Forman from That '70s Show and Lowell from Wings. That's when there is any fighting at all. Most of the movie has the goofy-grinned Peter Parker gushing about his feelings for Mary Jane Watson and having heart-to-hearts with Aunt May. It reminded me of last year's Superman snooze-fest. On a go/no-go scale, I give the Tobey Maguire-Topher Grace Battle Royal a "no-go".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rant: Air Travel

A few observations about the safest most irritating way to travel:

  • If you need to use the on-board washroom before take-off, you need to drink less.
  • Don't blame insufficient leg room on being too tall... blame it on being too cheap to buy business class.
  • Air France is just like Air Canada, except that the flight attendants are polite.
  • People used to wear their best suits to travel. On today's trans-Atlantic slumber party, they now wear their best track suits.
Photo credit: ricklibrarian

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Luxembourg Gardens

For election Sunday in Paris we bought baguettes and pastries and picnicked at Luxembourg Gardens, the expansive park that flanks Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate. In cities where most residents are apartment dwellers, parks are the hub of daytime activity. In Toronto, where most live in houses, they're primarily for dogs.

The fountain was full of model sailboats that children pushed into the breeze and while their parents fed french bread to pigeons. Back in the shade, fastblitz chess matches drew the interest of tourists who were mesmerized by the flurry of hands and moves as time ran down on the three-minute timers. My favourite activity were the games of p├ętanque, a bocce-like game, where metal balls are thrown as close as possible to a marker. Some players are skilled take-out specialists, making seemingly-impossible shots to dispose of another team's ball with a deafening clank. I had previously thought this game to exist only on the Cosby show.

Photo credit: Hello Hillary

Canadian City Pronunciation: Ottawa

I've had all that I can take of those geniuses on Buffalo's WGR 550 butchering the name of my hometown. "Ottawa" is not pronounced "Attawa", as though you're slapping your 300-lb buddy on the back, saying "attaboy" for scarfing down his 10,000th chicken wing at the Anchor Bar. It's "Ot-uh-wuh" and the first syllable is pronounced as though you're saying "awe". The end of the word, however, is not pronounced "awe", it's more like "wha", as in "wha the... how did the Sabres get swept?"