Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Honda spits on wagon fans with the Accord Crosstour

In the interest of honest disclosure, I'll start by admitting that I'm not a huge fan of Honda automobiles. They have for the most part produced very good vehicles that strike me as bland, though there are notable exceptions like the rare and exotic (for its day) Honda NSX (sold in the US as an Acura) and the excellent S2000 sports car.

That said, they rarely seem to make real mistakes. Opinionated schmucks like me bitch and moan about them being soulless and torqueless, but we can rarely claim they are actually bad cars. Their sales would prove us wrong anyway, and their repeat sales definitely show a strong brand loyalty.

One of my beefs with Honda of late is that they make cars I'd actually want, but only sell them elsewhere. They have for several years sold a wagon in Europe called the Accord Tourer that is by all reports an excellent car and is certainly nice to look at. It's well-proportioned and seems an excellent choice for someone needing some cargo capacity in a nice car. Now, the European Accord is not the US Accord, it's more like the previous Acura TSX. It's a bit smaller than the now full-sized US Accord. This means they can't just "bring it here" and sell it as an Accord Wagon (or, god forbid, leave the name alone and call it an Accord Tourer.) They could fairly easily produce an Acura TSX Sportwagon (or Tourer, or call it a WSX or TSX Type-W if you want to pick an Acura-ish name.)

The motoring press started teasing with sightings of mules based on the nice Euro Accord Tourer around a year ago, and things were looking good for a Honda or Acura I might actually put on The Short List. The silver car at right in a Brenda Priddy spy shot looked like an Accord Tourer with a Honda Pilot-style grille. It looked slightly tall, but it's common for US-market cars to have more ground clearance than Euro cars to deal with our more variable road surfaces, so that wasn't a reason for concern.

Then the spy shots showed something just WRONG. Maybe they were trying to throw us off... but no, American Honda is bringing a fat, swollen, repulsive pig of a crossover hatchback lump that's more like the off-scale, overweight, clumsy-looking BMW X6 than the sleek Accord Tourer. The fat white beast to the left is the all-but-undisguised production car, as confirmed by official pictures released by Honda. So far I've only seen postings from a few people who don't hate it, and for all I know they're sockpuppets anyway. For some reason Honda created a Facebook page for the thing, where it's been almost universally panned by people signing up as "fans" just to pour derision on it. In my (completely unscientific) ad hoc analysis of the comments, it looks like about 20-1 in favor of haters. Go haters!

Maybe now they'll bring the Accord Tourer.

Oklahoma students' civics knowledge is not OK

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a study on the basis civics knowledge of Oklahoma public high school students in which 1000 students were asked 10 questions taken from the citizenship test required for candidates to become naturalized citizens of the United States. The actual test also contains 10 questions and requires that the candidate answer 6 of them correction. According to KWTV News 9 in Oklahoma City, about 92% of candidates for citizenship pass on their first try.

The Oklahoma high school students' performance in the study contributes to my already-cynical view of our public education system. Only 3% of them would be allowed to become citizens if they hadn't been born here! Only 23% of them knew that George Washington was our first president, and only 28% knew that the President is the person in charge of the executive branch. Hell, only 61% of them correctly named the ocean bordering the US to the east!

Instead of basic useful knowledge like this, our citizens debate whether or not we should teach intelligent design and creationism. They're entitled to their opinions, but they probably wouldn't know that such entitlement is written into the Constitution if they hadn't heard it at a Teabagging Party.

UPDATE: Statistician and blogger Nate Silver is a bit suspicious about the pollster who put out the Oklahoma results, and has an article about it here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The (Forgotten) Concept of Moderation

I see examples frequently that pragmatism and moderation are largely forgotten concepts on modern society. I'll skip the political bullshit that offers myriad examples and cut straight to the event that prompted me to write this post.

Author and New Yorker Colin Beavan came up with a gimmick for a book... he'd become "No Impact Man" and subject his family to a year without modern conveniences and products in order to reduce their impact on the world... to shrink their "carbon footprint." They were to do this while living in a 9th-floor co-op apartment on 5th Avenue.

The premise itself is reasonable enough, but the execution is almost farcical. Why should we care that some schmuck decided he'd walk up 9 flights as a personal hair shirt in a building that has a functional elevator? His fairly ridiculous antics such as turning off the electricity and replacing their refrigerator with a "pot in pot" evaporative cooler are simply not inspiring to normal people leading normal lives... I doubt that it's going to encourage many people to consider working conservation into their everyday choices and paring down waste in their lives... and frankly I think people who buy their kids $975 boots aren't people to emulate anyway.

The rational thing to do is to reduce our impact in sustainable ways... meaning things we can continue to do indefinitely as improvements in the way we live, not as ridiculous overdone experiments that grate on us during the whole time we've deprived ourselves of a normal life (and often lead to overcompensation when the experiment is over.)

Keep a car as long as it's economically viable (few of us live where it's truly possible to live without one altogether unless you're a writer who doesn't have to go to a job.) When it's really time to replace a car, buy one that MEETS your needs, not one that's ready for taking 7 passengers on the Paris-Dakar rally.

Buy a house that's big enough, not one you think will impress your friends because yours is bigger than theirs. Maintain your house and stay there, nearly everything about moving is both wasteful and expensive, especially if you're "moving up" to a McMansion. Part of maintaining your house is making its systems efficient, and USING them efficiently. Flush the toilet when you need to, but don't cool your house to 65 when it's 90 degrees out (and don't heat it to 80 when it's snowing out, either.)

There are thousands of things that nearly everyone can do to drastically reduce our impact on the planet without getting all stone-age about it. Ridiculous stunts like this just make many people think "that's crazy!" rather than "that's easy, I should do that!"

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Wack Job Extraordinaire: Michelle Bachmann thinks she could be president

I thought that I had become immune to surprise at Michelle Bachmann's idiocy, but I'll be damned if she didn't manage to attain new heights of craziness.

According to MediaMatters,
on Mike Gallagher's radio show Bachmann claimed that Democrats want to sabotage any Republican woman who might become president (citing Sarah Palin specifically) and suggesting that's the reason Dems have negative things to say about her.

I guess that's possible, but it seems much more likely that Democrats aren't fond of Bachmann because she's a vapid, rabid, paranoid, delusional hack who shouldn't be president of the local John Birch fanclub, much less a member of Congress.

Sometimes a service policy is worth it.

In general, I advise against buying service policies. Companies sell service policies because they are profitable on the whole... the house always wins. Especially for new toys you buy under warranty, the service policy is really just extra money you're giving the vendor because you feel like you didn't pay enough for your new toy.

While there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, sometimes you can get a good discount on the blue-plate special. Our refrigerator recently decided it was tired of keeping our food cold and needed a break. A 7-year-old Kenmore Elite, I felt it was a bit early for it to retire so I did a little research. Based on the symptoms, troubleshooting guides indicated that the problem was either quite inexpensive or the most expensive problem a refrigerator can have, so bet on it being the $25 start capacitor/overload relay assembly (and lost.)

Per the collective wisdom of the troubleshooting guide, if it wasn't the start cap it was the compressor itself. My first surprise was that many companies marketing themselves as appliance repair services don't work on the refrigeration system of refrigerators. I guess they just fix icemakers and replace thermostats... they can't be bothered to maintain a license to handle refrigerant apparently. When I finally got an appointment, it was 4 days out. (This is when it's really nice to have a "beer fridge" so we didn't lose our entire inventory of perishable food.)

I had plenty of time to research the state of the refrigerator market. It turns out that nice bottom-freezer refrigerators are not bargain goods, and viable substitutes for mine were $1600-$2000. I was not enthused. I remembered that Sears offers 12-month service policies on appliances less than 10 years old, though, and thought it was worth a call. Sure enough, I could buy one. Here's how it works:

For my refrigerator, they offer a 12-month service policy for $250 that covers repairs (trip-charge, parts AND labor) up to $500 per incident. If the repair costs more than $500, you can opt to pay the rest out of pocket or apply $500 to the purchase of a replacement at Sears. Since the guesstimates I had heard for replacing the compressor ranged from $400-$600, this seemed like the right move.

The total for the repair ended up being $622, so for $397 ($250 for the service policy plus $122 for the excess on the repair plus $25 for the part I bought to troubleshoot the problem initially) I got a $622 repair AND 12 months of coverage should the repair work turn out to be less than perfect. I think that's a reasonably good outcome.