Friday, December 24, 2010

MTV and Bravo

Both channels used to be great.

MTV was the first channel to devote itself to music videos. I suppose it's not their fault that videos were quick to become a stunted art form after a short burst of creativity. Most of them were dim bands mouthing the words, even early on. Still, the music is gone now. It should be somewhere, even if music people are less visually creative than most.

Bravo was the ultimate highbrow movie channel. They only showed classics and important films, leaving the garbage to other channels. Now, they've sunk lower than everyone, except MTV.

Both feature trashy programs.

How did people in artificial situations with cameras end up being called, "Reality TV?"

Trash, trash, trash.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

American Liability Laws

Americans don't swim or dive as well as they used to. This is due to our liability laws. Good luck finding a pool with a diving board, or even a deep end. Also, swimming is best learned when you're young.

When I was a kid, swimming was no problem. My family never had a pool, but friends did, and so did friends of friends.

This meant that I could go swimming, whether those who owned the pool were home or not. If a group of us was found in the pool, the owners would come out briefly and say, "Have a good time, kids," before going back inside.

My generation cannot pass the favor on to younger people. Today, a homeowner cannot be nice. Pools have to be secured. Anyone in them must be supervised at all times.

Such idiotic safety measures will only increase the number of drownings.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I have never owned a Harley or any other motorcycle. By all accounts, their quality has gone up over the years. So, why are they on the list?

Because, I have wanted a motorcycle since I was a kid. I have rented scooters in the past, and I have always liked smaller machinery. If I ever buy anything, I would like it to be American. I find Harley frustrating.

The only thing Harley ever made that I wanted was the Buell Blast. It was a 500cc single. That's bigger than I would want, but it's small enough.

They could make an American scooter equivalent by making a modern version of The Silent Grey Fellow. They could do a lot of things, but they're stuck somehow. They're not quite frozen in time or frozen in amber, but they definitely aren't going anywhere.

Right now, Harley-Davidson has 3 major problems.

1. Overcommitment to one engine. Just as GM clings to the small-block Chevy, Harley clings to the big 45 degree V-twin. Both are great motors, but not everyone wants one.

2. "Bigger is Better" mindset. For a while, they were running a promotion guaranteeing a good trade-in deal for those moving up from a Sporster. While the Sportster is the smallest Harley, it's still too big for a lot of people. For some, it's the right size. Nobody at Harley has a clue about that.

3. There is nothing for beginners. I saw some imported scooters in front of a Harley dealership in Thousand Oaks, but I suspect they're the modern counterparts to the small machines they once sold from Aeromacchi: Junk not to be taken seriously. Afterthoughts. They need a solid product range. Right now, a beginner has to start on a motorcycle made by someone else.

I hope they read this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gibson and Fender

Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Both are in a situation similar to Levi's. After decades of substandard products, they still don't understand why what they made years ago commands a higher price than what is made today.

It's hard to say which of their current product lines are worse. Is it the garbage they make in China? Or, is it their nostalgiac copies of famous instruments, often complete with scuff marks and cigarette burns?

It costs money to make the best sounding instruments. That's why Gibson and Fender settle for making the best looking.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

British Rail

Before it was privatized, British Rail was four efficient companies, each with different regions. Then, it was nationalized into one company. That arrangement also worked well. The current privatized arrangement is a total mess. There are companies that own the tracks, stations, etc. It is private ownership that only could have been designed by a government. Nobody is really responsible for anything, and things are much worse. You have to wonder how anyone could think of such a stupid way of doing it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Rolex used to mean understated simplicity and elegance. Many old Rolexes look great.

Like Rolls-Royce, Rolex managed to fall without moving their production facilities.

Newer ones are about bling. Want to avoid looking like a (Insert unfavorable nouveau riche stereotype here)?

Don't wear a Rolex.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The San Diego Union-Tribune

This paper used to win Pulitzers. Now, I call it the little paper. It's little, and it's printed on paper. They are poster children for bad outsourcing decisions. (Yes, there could be a large catalog of such posters.) This paper not only used to be big, it used to be two different papers.

On the front page, they emphasize local news. It doesn't cover up their bad judgement.

Back in March, there were a number of stories about travel to the Caribbean. The articles they bought were not modified at all. They were well written, but useless for their audience in San Diego. The Caribbean looked and sounded great. The articles gave all the information you needed about how to get there from New York and Chicago.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


The Auto Club used to be the gold standard for claims. Not any more.

A couple of years ago, they nearly totalled my car after an accident. They didn't want to wait for the police report. They were very aggressive.

Of course it wasn't my fault. My car was parked and empty when it happened.

Eventually, they decided to fix my car, but it was a big headache.

I don't know if the other companies, which weren't as good, have gotten worse.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Raleigh Bicycles

I have a 1977 Raleigh Grand Prix. It's a great bike. Raleighs were a little outdated, but they ran well and could be ridden for miles. They were made in Nottingham.

The last real Raleigh was made in 2002. The US stopped getting them long before that.

There is still a full product line that carries the name. They sell quite a range, but not one of them is a Raleigh.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Before deregulation, flying was a big deal. It was something to brag about. People who flew were the envy of everyone else. Those who flew a lot were part of the jet set.

Now, telling people you're flying brings sympathy. Too bad. Maybe you won't have to go next time.

The problem is cramped seats. Every dimension has shrunk over time. Seat pitch measures the distance from one fixed point on a seat to the same fixed point on the seat behind it. Over time, it has gone from about 36 inches to 30. That's a rough average.

Measure the seat pitch in your car. No matter how small it is, the seat pitch for your commuter car is longer than it is for airlines that carry people on long trips.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Coca-Cola and Pepsi

I never liked either one. Long ago, I took the Pepsi Challenge and picked Coke. The big winner, however, which was not mentioned in any commercial, was, "No preference."

The cola wars disprove the orthodoxy taught in economics classes. That is, competition does not breed product improvement. In fact, both have gotten worse over time, as they shifted from sugar to corn syrup.

About 10 years ago, I finally found out what all the fuss was about. All natural colas came out, made by other companies. I tried one and liked it. I thought, "Oh. That's what they're imitating."

Saturday, October 9, 2010


VW's biggest problem is that most of what they sell is a global product at a German price.

Their marketing, consequently, never works. They should either have massive price cuts or do something to increase quality.

National products have identity. One of their greatest was the Mexican Bug. It was made there long enough that Mexico, not Germany, was home. I drove one in the mid-90s, and it was fantastic.

Most of their products, however, are international collections of parts. This is happening more and more in the automotive business. It's hard to imagine how quality could be tracked if factory owners and workers have no idea where their products might go and only vague ideas of how they would fit.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Apple products are usually good. This post is about their names.

For some years now, everything has been the iThis or the iThat. What's with all the narcissism?

Why is their core target market still the Me Generation?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Children's Books

Writing for children was at its best when Dr. Seuss was alive. His books were great, and he raised the level of everyone else.

Before that, kids' books were drab and dark, like Munro Leaf's Watchbird. Disney was popular, but Walt Disney's work shows that he had more issues than a magazine archive.

Since then, children's books are just captions under boring pictures. It's no wonder so few children are interested in reading.

Has anyone ever learned to read from Joy Cowley?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thin Mints

Thin mints used to be crisp. They were chocolate covered and white on the inside. Then, they were dark. Some flavor went away. Now, they're also mushy.

The Girl Scouts have introduced many new flavors.

I'm sure the new Thin Mints have their followers, but why not reintroduce the old ones also?

Friday, September 10, 2010

California Schools

California's schools used to vie for the number 1 spot in the country.

Then, Proposition 13 was voted in by gullible Californians. The measure freezes property taxes at the level for when the property last changed hands. Such a measure might have worked for principal residences, but the tax break covers every square inch of the state. Why taxing places like Disneyland at their 1977 value remains in place as a populist measure is a mystery.

Anyway, property taxes funded schools, which have been in free-fall ever since.

Two of the most egregious things one finds in schools here are old books and old buildings. Libraries are still filled with books that date back to the fifties. Kids can read about life without computers, cell phones, and in some cases, television. Many schools have, "Temporary bungalows." Many of those date back to WWII. They were well built, but they were only meant to last the duration of the war. They were not built to be cleaned or maintained. Consequently, they are full of dust and impossible to be in.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The New Yorker

Harold Ross famously said that it was not for, "Some little old lady in Dubuque." Someone should tell the current crew that it's not for her stupid hip-hop nephew either.

What's with all the F-bombs?

Today's New Yorker is just as banal as anything else.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I used to aspire to one. Their long sloping fenders that they had until the mid-60s are still worthy.

Their product from the 70s through the 90s looked like 50s Buicks, but without any flair whatsoever.

Since they changed hands a number of times, their product has gotten steadily worse. Would anyone in their right mind be caught dead in a Rolls-Royce? Their current products are unbelievably gaudy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


What do you call people who repackage cliches?


Ah Disney, what an arrogant bunch.

Living in Southern California, I have been around them longer than most. Disney used to be movies and a couple of theme parks. Walt had his weirdness and his issues, but everything felt more real in a way.

Over time, Disney has grown into more than a corporation. It's a rigid happy orthodoxy.

After not having been to any of their parks for many years, I went to one of their malls. Downtown Disney is extremely oppressive. Sound systems follow you everywhere. Precisely placed food stands make the whole place smell like a sweets factory where they use too much corn syrup.

Other places designed by Disney people feel the same way to varying degrees. San Diego's Seaport Village has a similar oppressive fakeness about it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


My first lesson in product inferiority came from some now deceased cousins around 1980. "Any time production is moved, quality goes down."

They were antique dealers who traded in Leicas, real Leicas from Germany.

Subsequent products are competent, but they're just cameras.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


When I went to Japan in 1995, there was a buy-American craze running full blast. Converse shoes were everywhere. There was nothing like Converse shoes.

Since then, production was moved to China. The only thing that's right about them is the high price. Knock-offs, most likely from the same factories, abound. Why shouldn't they? None of them are really Converse. There is no reason to pay a premium price.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Ford should win an award for cynicism. Due to currency trouble, the second generation Focus never came to the US. I see them on the road all the time, because they do sell German made Foci in Mexico, where the currency has more trouble.

Why do they keep selling America the first generation car? Do they think we don't have the internet?

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Toyota's were bulletproof for many years. In the 90s, I remember someone asking me if I thought they might have, "Too much quality." I didn't think so, but Toyota did.

Over time, they started a process of decontenting, which continues through the present day. One can only wonder why a company making the best product at a reasonable price would want to change. They eventually became bigger than General Motors, but look what happened to them.

Now, car buyers have to read reports on each individual model. Toyota was the last reliable make. I'm glad I read up on things, because I could have easily bought a Yaris, which is known as the Vitz in other places.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


General Motors is one of the worst companies when it comes to selling their products based on sentimental patriotism. They loudly complain about imports. I have always wondered why.

Chevrolet used to mean something. They were solid American cars. Now, they can be anything. Chevy is just a logo. Parts, and indeed the whole car, can come from anywhere. In some ways, they have been consistent.

I quote from a review of the Aveo, "Having spent many years proving that they can't build a small car in America, GM now proves that they can't build one in Korea either."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Major League Baseball

Going to a game used to mean listening to cheesy organ music from time to time, along with the occasional, "Charge." Stadiums looked like stadiums. They weren't spectacular, but you could see the field fairly well. At some point, places like Camden Yards were built. Someone had decided that all baseball stadiums needed to be like Wrigley Field. There is nothing wrong with the "Friendly Confines," but the copies are just copies, and bad ones at that.

Now, all stadiums are wired for sound. They were never quiet, but now they're ridiculous. A game is now a programmed religious experience. Every player has his own theme song. Sound effects abound. The action on the field has its usual ebbs and flows, but the sounds are relentlessly, "Exciting." I would like to see a baseball stadium that isn't a theme park.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Izod LaCoste

I have never worn one of their shirts, but those who have recall when they were made in France. I have recently looked at their newer, global product. It's exactly the same as every other brand. I can't imagine why anyone would spend the extra money for something made at the same contract manufacturers that make the other ones. Also, the alligator carries too much emotional baggage.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


This is a short post, because Walmart's problems and abuses are documented everywhere else. Incredibly, Sam Walton's autobiography was entitled, Made in America. It was Wal-Mart then. He gave his buyers incentives to buy American products. He was also a pioneer in profit sharing. Things have changed a little bit.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Once upon a time, there was a game, a mob scene in England that came to be called, "Football." It grew into other variations, which also go by the same name. Overbearing fans often insist that their variation is the only one worthy of the designation, but all are legitimate descendants of the original free-for-all. Association football went on to become known as, "The Beautiful Game." It needs a makeover. There are problems everywhere.

1. On the field: Good spectator sports have high drama, winning traditions, displays of mastery, comebacks and heroic last stands. Soccer might be beautiful, but nothing happens. The offsides rule, somnambulant players, defense oriented strategy and flopping all combine to make soccer boring. At least when you watch paint dry, there is a slight change in color and texture.

Here are some scores from The 2010 FIFA World Cup:

Uruguay vs. France
Ivory Coast vs. Portugal

Both games were 0-0.

South Africa vs. Mexico
England vs. USA
Italy vs. Paraguay
New Zealand vs. Slovakia

All 1-1.

USA vs. Slovenia 2-2.

2. Around the field: Watch an American Football game filmed at any time in the last 40 years. You're right in the action. If you watch the NFL in person, you see cameras everywhere. Every angle is covered. The NFL boasts the highest production values, and other American sports aren't far behind.
Soccer takes its motto from an old Chrysler campaign: Suddenly it's 1960! One camera sits high above the cheap seats. The viewer sees ants run around on a green surface.

3. Off the field: Soccer is bankrupting itself. It has gone further than baseball and the NFL in bleeding its audience dry. While one could argue that those willing to pay any price for a nonessential deserve to do just that, it has come at the expense of mass appeal. Bankruptcies are happening across the sports world. Core audiences do not have unlimited budgets. It might be too late to win back the masses, who don't know and don't care.

It's been a long time since the maracanazo.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The British Judicial System

Thanks to Britain, the US has the rule of law. Generally, precedents and testimony where witnesses are confronted and cross examined is better than the older Roman system of everything in written form. It's puzzling though, that the English system is now off the rails in a big way.

The above story is about a woman who was heavily penalized for selling a goldfish to a kid who was underage by two years. There are laws about children buying pets, but a goldfish isn't exactly a dog.

Last winter, some kids were arrested for stealing council sand. The sand was in bins, and it looked like it was there for the taking. It seems that they took the sand and spread it on the walkways of elderly neighbors, who would have otherwise been unable to leave their homes, due to icing. The sand serves no other purpose.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Being a native of Northern California, Levi's have always been a point of pride. They were invented and produced there for over 100 years. Although there were some changes (I never understood the Big E people.), they stayed basically the same the whole time.

Then, Levi's discovered contract manufacturing. Gradually, quality slipped to the point where they are just generic pants. I have continued buying them, because they are the only ones who sell odd numbered sizes.

Now Levi's aren't very good. Contract manufacturers size things so inconsistently, that odd numbered sizes show up via sloppiness, though they aren't labeled as such. It's time to look to other brands.

My current pair of 501s was badly made in Mexico. When I sit, it feels like they're twisting. The outseam is much higher than the inseam.

Does Levi's get it? Of course not. Their vintage products change hands for lots of money, but they have no idea why.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


This blog starts on June 5, 2010 and runs for a year. We'll be looking at once great products and services that have been ruined by outsourcing, nationalization, privatization, decontenting or other corporate stupidity. Although there is no shortage, the blog will only run through June of 2011, after 52 listings.