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Life Can Be a Cadillac

The Drive to Succeed. Maternal care. Private matters. Oil changes. Plus more.

5.15.06

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MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Re: Happy Feder's My Mother's Child:

I remember the day I woke up and realized I had become my mother, it was sometime after the birth of my second child. With sleepless nights, due to her many ear infections, I suddenly realized one night watch, with her on my shoulder in the only rocking chair I could sleep in, that I had become my mother. She was up nights with me, her first child, as I had asthma from the time I was born, and she held me on her shoulder so I could breathe. She then, after a night in a chair, would rise about 4am to go help my dad milk the cows in the dairy they operated for a few years.

I have heard many say that they did not want to become like their mother, but for me, I knew that developing her skills, her love of family and God, her service in our local Baptist church, her wise use of money, and endless hours helping my father ranch (he came to his senses and went back to cattle ranching, leaving the dairy hours to others), that my mother was a Proverbs 31 woman. This passage of scriptures about an industrious smart woman was the epitome of my mother.

My mother fell in her fourth month of pregnancy with her second child, my brother. He was born a whopping 10 pounder and despite his physical prowess and beautiful skin and curly blonde hair, he was diagnosed at about two years of age, as an autistic child. The expert doctors in the mid-1950's did as so many of their era, and blamed my mother for his autism. That she didn't rip their eyes out is a testimony of her ability to grace. She never got over that diagnosis and to this day calls those doctors fools. I agree with her whole heartedly.

She badgered the University of Texas and legislators about developing special education programs for the state of Texas, but when they were not forthcoming, she took correspondence courses from Purdue University to learn how to teach my brother. I never have known how she found out about which universities taught such, as this was the early 1960's and the Internet was not in use. But she did and each morning she would take my brother out to a unused utility house and work with him two to three hours a morning. She was relentless and untiring and my brother progressed.

When my father would leave our ranch in the hill country to work cattle at our ranch in South Texas, mother would run the ranch without Dad's presence. She delivered calves, goat kids, fixed fences, and any other task needing done while my dad was gone. She could do anything and did. She could kill a rattlesnake with a baby in her arms and was fearless in everything. Unflinchingly, she raised three children, imparted God's grace, taught Sunday School classes, saw that my sister and I learned social graces, made sure we understood the value of hard work, and gave us love to carry us through our life's journey.

When I married a career military officer my mother was clearly not happy because she knew her daughter and her grandchildren would live far away. When we were stationed in Germany for four years my mother wrote me daily. Sometimes, the letters were no more than a few short paragraphs, but I received a letter through the German post nearly everyday. She knew the power a letter from home would have on my heart. Then, to my surprise, she and my father were able to travel to Germany, while my sister lovingly took her place caring for our brother. Three trips away from the ranch were all my mother and father were able to make in their marriage of nearly 60 years. Care of family comes first.

Last week my brother was hospitalized. My mother slept on an uncomfortable chair in his room for the entire time he was in hospital. She never wanted to leave his side. She is tireless in her care giving.

My mother walks using two canes now. She has severe osteoporosis. She has a heart that beats the rhythm of love out for her family still. She rises early and prepares breakfast, my brother's list of meds, and calls me daily to see how I am. This Mother's Day we will, as the scriptures say, rise up and call her blessed, for she is.

So, this mother's day as my mother approaches her 80th year of life, I'd be proud if someone spoke these words to me, "You are just like your mother", I'd feel mighty proud!
-- Beverly Gunn
East Texas Rancher, Military Mom, and Proud Daughter

Please, more small-town pieces like this! Happy Jack Feder's tribute to his mother made me cry.
-- Kitty Myers
Painted Post, New York

DRIVE ON
RE: Lawrence Henry's The Real Cost of Driving:

That settles it: I'm getting a Cadillac.
-- Bryan Frymire
Louisville, Kentucky

Couldn't agree more with Lawrence Henry's take on the relative high cost of hybrid ownership. Just wait 'til the battery packs start needing replacement! From what I've read, this little item could easily set the owner back anywhere from $3K to $5K! This Fifties boy hotrodder can see it now: someone's battery pack crumps just after the warranty expires, so they switch to driving on the "gas" side of the powertrain only. Good luck in unloading any used hybrid that needs said pack replaced; talk about a throwaway vehicle! I'm quite comfortable driving my fleet of elderly restored Eldorados, Toronados, Corvairs and a lone '90 Hondo CRX with 275K on the odometer (engine's never been apart) and still gets 42 MPH on the road. And oh yes, Mr, Henry, my Diamond White '98 Deville is a daily driver, too.
-- Phil Brandt
Austin, Texas

Re Lawrence Henry's Eldorado, an even better option in the second-hand auto market is a used Mercedes diesel. I've had two of them, a 1985 300SD (purchase price $16,000 in 1991) and a 1997 E300D (purchase price $15,500 in 2001). Highway mileage was often well above 30mpg and the cost per mile driven -- everything included: purchase price, insurance, fuel, repairs, and so on -- averaged about 32 cents a mile for each vehicle. The recent fuel cost spike will probably drive up the cost for the still-owned second vehicle, but of course it will do the same for Mr. Henry's Eldorado.

I hasten to add that one should consider a Mercedes only if he can find a competent non-dealership repair shop, as I have. The typical factory Mercedes dealership seems to regard the sale of the vehicle as a loss leader for the profits to be made in their service department.
-- Jameson Campaigne
Ottawa, Illinois

Lawrence Henry's cost comparo on Hybrid vs. the klunker reminds me of the emissions testing they used to have here in Michigan. Only newer autos were subject to the annual emissions testing which was required to renew one's license. A vehicle 10 years or older was exempt because of some egalitarian ideal that the klunkers were exclusive property of the poor, who had no money for cleaner newer vehicles. Thus newer car owners were the assumed "rich" and were basically taxed the emission testing fee ($35.00). Where the money went…?

A by-product of this misbegotten policy was that the old klunkers spewed enough pollutants for the entire population of the state of Michigan. Being behind one of those old beasts was akin to a mustard gas attack with the cloudy visual accompaniment found at the opening of a Blue Oyster Cult concert.

Eventually this stupid idiotic policy was tossed by the Engler Administration. But as you know we now suffer the ever lackluster Jennifer Granholm. Hey, life is tough all over.
-- P. Aaron Jones
Huntington Woods, Michigan

Lawrence Henry exposes the fallacy of buying a new, expensive "hybrid" over a good used car as a way to save operational costs, specifically fuel. But the key to his analysis is not the type of vehicle but rather the condition. It's the "new" part that makes the difference and his comparison would work in almost any match up of new vs. quality used vehicles.

I drive the highways of S. Florida 30K-40K miles annually and have for over eight years. For over seven of those years I drove an '86 Caprice Classic LS Brougham, in mint condition, which I bought for $2300 in 1996 with 25k miles on it. Along the way I repaired the usual worn items, including rear axles, as I clocked almost 300,000 miles on the car. Up until its retirement in April '05 I spent probably $6000 in repairs including an exterior restoration in '98 but not including oil changes, tires, gas and brakes. It got 17-19mph on the highways where I did 80% of my driving and would use 2-3 tanks per week. The car was a spacious 4-door, had a 305 V-8, all the amenities, rear-wheel drive, a heavy box frame, a great ride and a .308 rear-end which is for top-end highway driving...real fast. I loved that car. I had no car payment, low insurance rates and reasonable repair and maintenance costs. My insurance business associates all have late model, expensive sedans with $300-$500 monthly payments, expensive insurance and expensive maintenance bills. Oh yes, late model cars also break down and require routine maintenance. Call a BMW or Honda dealer to inquire about the price of a routine brake job. My pals would rib me about my so-called mileage deficit to which I'd point out these acquisition and operational costs differences and say, "...so let's figure I burn a couple of tanks more per month than you but I have no payment, low insurance and low repair bills...I can afford the gas." Last April the motor threw the timing chain, not a big deal in itself probably a $500 repair, but it was time for another car.

So I repeated this successful strategy by buying a 2003 Grand Marquis LS Ultimate. The Grand Marquis is probably the best value in used cars going. I've been scoping them out for the last several years. They are purchased primarily by retired old guys who take perfect care of them and then trade them in after 3-4 years with low mileage and usually still under warranty. But they have a limited resale market and the used ones go for a comparative song. Mine had 22k miles and was a "certified" used model which qualifies it for Mercury's best extended, bumper to bumper 7yr/100k warranty for which I will pay $2210 over 17 payments. It too has a proven, reliable 4.6 V-8, box frame, rear-wheel drive, great ride, leather interior, large trunk and all the amenities. I picked-up this perfect condition, broken-in, warranted $37K car for $12K cash. It gets 22mpg and actually does better running the A/C on the highway. It is the same basic car the police and Highway patrol drive and they go forever if you take care of them. I will get 200k-300k miles out of this one as well by doing just that and by adding separate oil/tranny coolers, frequent oil changes, radiator flushes and jumping right on any noises or performance changes I notice.

The principle Mr. Henry outlines is not one of older vs. newer or different technology but rather one of premium, depreciation and market forces. He illustrates that nicely when he details the additional "acquisition" costs such as the "dealer premium" one pays for "privilege of buying the darn thing" not to mention the unquantifiable premium of buying something new for the sake of its newness (it's a new model, new model year, redesign, etc.) that the market imposes. By buying a quality used car however, one takes advantage of the market-imposed depreciation the original buyer suffered in driving their new baby off the lot. The greatest decline in the value of a vehicle is in its first couple of years and is not due to a degradation of the machine itself or its capability but by a deflation of the premium. The original owner of my Grand Marquis paid $37K for the car and enjoyed it for three years and 22k miles. He received probably $10-$12K for the trade. I bought that car for the same $12K plus $2210 for the extended total warranty and will get, hopefully, at least 200K miles out of it. In other words, he paid $1.37 per mile in acquisition costs ($25,000 / 22,000 miles) while I will pay $.08 per mile ($14,010 / 178,000 miles), assuming no major additional repair costs. It would have to be a major, major repair for me to even approach his costs. The market makes it very clear that the car was worth $12K at 3 years old with 22K miles but left unclear to most folks is what made it worth $25K more in the first three years and 22k miles?

Premium, that's what. The undefined premium of newness for newness's sake. Nothing wrong with paying and taking it if you really want new for its own sake, understand this market-driven rate and the cost differential but generally absolutely self-defeating as a way to lower operational costs.

Premium and depreciation. They are the two sides of the same coin of "new" and I will never pay that premium again for a driver.
-- Mark Shepler
Jupiter, Florida

An interesting article but I was not impressed with the author's ability to amortize expenses. For one thing, two years is too short a period for a valid comparison. For another, the author forgot a major expense: the earnings potential lost on the more than $20,000 difference in cost of the vehicles. For example. a utility stock I am invested in has been paying over 4% in dividends for a number of years. Investing the $20,000 in this stock would gross over $800 a year, the net of which could be used to offset gasoline costs. But finally, what is the monetary value of the pleasure some people derive from owning a particular car? If one enjoys one's car, one has made a wise investment.
-- Laurence Loudon

Glad to see you got a new dog and hope the empty space in your family's hearts have been filled. Hope you and your family enjoy many years with him. I assume he like likes to travel in the car and is comfortable!
-- Diamon Sforza

Get old guzzling clunkers off the road?

The NYT has editorialized in favor of removing all SUVs (new and old) from the road.

Aren't old cars disproportionately owned by the poor? Wouldn't banning them be akin to self-styled poverty advocates keeping the affordable wares of Wal-Mart out of poor urban neighborhoods?

I just procured a 1997 Chevy Suburban. It costs $120 to fill the tank. 12 mpg.

It was a gift from my mother-in-law. $4 gasoline or not, would have cost me 5k to buy that car or any other. As you say, gas is just part of the total cost of car ownership.
-- Dan

Lawrence Henry...What about resale value?
-- Adam DiAntonio

Right on Mr. Henry! My youngest son just gave up on his 1994 Chevy S10 that struggled with CA. smog laws and was continually targeted for license plate illumination deficiencies. His new ride is a 1966 Chrysler New Yorker.

She's a big beautiful luxury liner with a trunk almost as large as the bed of his former pickup. The throaty 440 cu.in. engine precludes sneaking in at night. There is no music system to tempt the low life scum stereo thieves. The A.M. radio is sitting in the trunk, uninstalled. It'll pass any thing on the road but a gas station, "And Mom, I never have to worry about smog again."
-- Marcia Fox
Stockton, California

Lawrence Henry's article illustrates the economic issue of capital expense versus operating expense. For most people, paying the premium for a hybrid does not pay off because they do not operate the vehicle enough to overcome the increased capital expense. Most businesses, especially large capital-intensive businesses like electric utilities, constantly juggle this equation.

Big base-load generating stations, be they coal or nuclear, are very expensive to build. However, if you can run them 24 hours a day, month after month, the savings in operating expense makes them a good buy because cost per Kwh gets driven down with uninterrupted operation. On the other hand, combustion turbine generators have a relatively low capital expense, but they consume a lot of fuel. Because of the fuel penalty, their cost per Kwh is high and constant operation would overcome their advantage in capital cost. Consequently, these units are operated during heat waves and other times when peak electrical demand occurs.

Of course, that good feeling of "helping" the environment may overcome the poor economics of a hybrid purchase. I suppose that's why I see so many Kerry stickers on the bumpers of hybrids.
-- W.L. Roughton
Fairfax Station, Virginia

Lawrence Henry's perspective on the cost of driving provides an excellent analysis of how to drive on the cheap, but is not very helpful for those considering the purchase of a new car. I'm sure that if he compared the cost of his used Caddy with the cost of buying a new Honda Civic, he would still come out ahead. For a more equitable analysis, perhaps he ought to compare the cost of a new Cadillac with that of a new Prius, or a two-year-old Caddy with a two-year-old Prius. Then, maybe, the discussion would move closer to comparing an apple to an apple.

Besides, for me, buying a Prius is not just about saving what's in my wallet. It's also about saving what's on the planet.
-- George Linzer
Arlington, Virginia

I have liked your math for many years. I own a 90 and 94 Cadillac (Devilles). I do my own maintenance so I own one as a back up. The 2001 Cad should be your next target as it doesn't require premium.

The bottom line, take a ride in a new Prius, then sit in your Cad. No comparison. And you save money on top of it. But you shouldn't have put out the word. It's only going to drive up the price of used cars for the rest of us. :)

As to paying $275 for a new door handle?
-- Bill

Lawrence Henry replies:
That was $275 for the interior assembly including door handle, upholstered armrest, and window and lock controls.

PRIVATE MATTERS
Re: Doug Bandow's Conservatives for Privacy:

Your very last paragraph claims the right to privacy is predicated on the "properly understood and deployed" premise.

Help me. Please tell me when any congressman or senator properly understood anything before running to a microphone to spout off or rushing to sign legislation or a budgetary bill?

Help me. Please tell me how often congressmen or senators "properly understands" what they are talking about without receiving talking points?

Help me. Please tell me whether congressmen or senators can deploy anything other than their mouths to talk, or aides to sniff out cash contributions?

The only reason these people are elected in the first place is that the American people, from the goodness of their hearts, have devised an affirmative action work plan for those unable to cope in the business place.

The right to privacy that conservatives can understand will be when the first person, refusing to let local governments use eminent domain to separate him from his property, uses a firearm in that defense.
-- Wolf Terner
Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Of privacy and transparency Doug Bandow observes "Conservatives, especially those now in power are far too careless and cavalier in dismissing the importance of both values. Properly understood and deployed, the right to privacy (as well as government transparency) could be a powerful tool for limiting government. Conservatives should take note." Indeed we should, but what about those in power to whom he refers? Not all seem willing to keep their consciences to themselves

The problem is not that theocratic oppression is the organizing principle of neoconservatism, but that neoconservatives seek ,and find ,power in its political organization and legitimization. Palaeoconservatives have too often seen such logic chopping reify itself not just as guillotines, but laws severed from the constitution of liberty.
-- Russell Seitz

GONE SOUTH
Re: William Tucker's Mississippi 1964 Reunion:

This well-written article brought to mind my Dad's take on segregation back in the early 1960's. He said "segregation is stupid because do you not think among the millions of Blacks in this country, there isn't at least one Salk, Einstein, or other great thinker? You know that to be the case. So segregation deprives society of the benefit of that superior mind. So send them to good schools and provide the same education we do to white kids. Society will be better for it and, Son, it's the right thing to do."

We might be better off if simple thinking men and women like my Dad were at the helm today.
-- Jay W. Molyneaux
Wellington, Florida

BEN'S OIL
RE: Ben Stein's Stop the Scapegoating Reader Mail's Oil for One:

Sir, I am not an accountant, but as a layman I have to tell you that your arguments in your recent article "Stop the Scapegoating" do not make sense. You say the oil companies are not responsible for the high oil prices and that it is the "traders that get rich". Isn't a company's profit determined by subtracting the cost of producing a product from the revenue generated by selling the product? So when I read that an oil company's profits are billions of dollars in a single quarter, doesn't that mean that the revenue they took in (the amount of money we paid for the gasoline we put in our cars) exceeded the cost to them in producing, packaging, delivering and selling the gasoline during that three month period? Within the company's profit equation, the loss or profit of "traders" and investors doesn't exist: the variables are the cost to produce the gas and the revenue generated from selling the gas. The cost of a barrel of oil (means by which traders get rich) will impact the company's cost to produce a gallon of gas. So when you write that "trader's are getting rich" you are "mixing apples with oranges." Sure others are profiting from the high price people are willing to pay for oil. But it doesn't deny the fact that the oil companies are declaring huge profits; and that means that they are selling their product for a lot more money than it is costing them to make it. And because their profits from succeeding quarters have continued to surpass previous profits; they are expanding this difference from what "they pay" (to make the gas) and what they make us pay at the pump.

I would genuinely be grateful if you could point out the flaw in my reasoning because I sincerely hate the thought of citizens being victims of big business.
-- Terry Druffel

Been reading some of the responses to Ben Stein's article on big oil and the high gas prices. The ignorance expressed in some of the letters is appalling coming from supposedly educated people. Big oil may be taking advantage of a situation here but the real problem with high fuel prices does lie with government policy of the past 40 years, coupled with laxity on our part towards efficiency, and of course, taxation. One thing people seem to forget also is that some of the main areas which supply our oil are also very unstable politically, along with being not very friendly to us. Another issue that seems to be forgotten with the emphasis on gas prices and refinery capacity is that a lot of our plastics are petroleum based in their manufacture, including those plastic bags that we carry our groceries in. Maybe Ben could do an article on that aspect of oil also.
-- Pete Chagnon

Same old scratchy record. Jealousy. Do any of these gasoline whiners have any idea what an off shore drilling rig costs? What it costs to do business in an atmosphere of whacko environmentalists, and do it with union help?

When I made one dollar forty cents an hour, gas was 34 cents a gallon. Do the math.

If you really need something to whine about, think of the future under Hillary Clinton, after you get done kicking the stuffing out of President Bush, our Capitalists way of doing things and a Country full of abundance.

Thank you Ben, William Tucker, and Thom Bateman. Just to name a few. Thank you Mr. Hillyer.

I hope I live long enough to see W referred to as one of the Great Presidents. When the dust settles and the truth be known, a lot of liberal minds are going to bite the dust. I look forward to the day that the Rathers of this world have nothing to say.
-- Martin N. Tirrell
Lisbon, New Hampshire

BEFORE DEPLOYMENT
Re: Ben Stein's Greetings From Rancho Mirage:

Thank you so much for your article in the Spectator. We are all deploying into harm's way and it is good to hear that others recognize the sacrifice. Personally, I missed my only brother's wedding, my sister-in-laws wedding, my brother-in-laws wedding, my 10th anniversary and countless birthdays and other holidays due to military duties and deployments. I have not deployed as much as many. I am heading over next month for 6 months away. Yes, this means another potential Christmas away from my wife and three young kids. The job is a tough one but we love what we do. It makes it even more rewarding to know we are appreciated.

Thank you for taking the time to write. I received your article from a co-worker who has been deployed for almost a year away from her husband and little girl. She is performing a dangerous mission on a Military Assistance Team training Iraqi police in Tallil, Iraq. She has witnessed many of her police associates killed. She recently threw another uniform away because she could not get the blood out from picking up the remains of her fallen comrades. She was shot at in a helicopter and a bullet grazed her neck. I pray every day that she makes it home ok. I sent her over there. This is tough also when you are the one who has to send your troops away and pray they will make it back in one piece.

We all know we are helping. I wish the news media would cover more about how much progress is being made. Freedom is not cheap and it does not come without sacrifice in lives and family.

God bless you and your family.

Please keep us all in your prayers.
-- Henri C. "Kit" Lambert, Lt. Col. USAF
Luke AFB, Arizona

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