BMW’s Diesel Plug-In Hybrid: 63 mpg, Faster Than an M3 — Say cheese, Monsieur Sarkozy! You’re on The Simpsons — ‘Savannah Holly Days’ starts Friday — ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ household edition — Success of White House party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi is disgrace for Secret Service — FAA Releases Transcripts of Northwest Flight That Overflew Minneapolis — Dubai Crisis May End in ‘Major’ Default, BofA Says — Ugly Bat Boy Video — The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody Music Video — Federal Reserve tries theater ads to burnish its image


BMW’s Diesel Plug-In Hybrid: 63 mpg, Faster Than an M3

Gearlog – Posted By: Bill Howard

BMW’s EfficientDynamics Vision concept car combines the best of all worlds with incredible fuel efficiency, breaktaking performance, and sensational looks. It’s powered by a three-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, lithium polymer batteries, and electric motors front and rear. The BMW Vision gets a U.S. unveiling next week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Dec. 4-13. The only bad news: The BMW Vision is more vision than production-ready concept car. What you’d most likely see on sale would be the key components such as the drivetrain and battery technology transplanted to a more mainstream body.

On a stopover from Europe en route to L.A., BMW held a series of press briefings at its Chestnut Ridge, N.J., U.S. headquarters. According to BMW, the goal was to create a car that would be as quick as BMW’s V8 M3, yet tread lightly in terms of environmental impact. Here’s how the BMW Vision has the potential to win the hearts and minds of hot-rodders, environmentalists, and techies alike:

Total output from the engine and electric motors is 356hp, and peak torque is 590 foot-pounds (a lot). Acceleration to 100 kph (62 mph) takes just 4.8 seconds and speed tops out at 155 mph. Average fuel consumption is 62.6 mpg or 3.76 liters/100 km in European figures. The fuel economy translates to CO2 emissions of 99 grams per kilometer; getting below 100 is the holy grail by EU standards.

The Vision has a range of 431 miles, BMW says: 31 miles in all-electric mode, about the same as the Chevrolet Volt, plus 400 miles from the 6.6 gallon fuel tank. BMW hasn’t yet tried to play the U.S.-automaker mpg numbers game, saying that since most trips are less than 30 miles, and since big powerplant generation is more efficient than using a combustion engine, the effective mileage is up around 200 mpg. What is clear is that electric motors are extremely efficient, as are big power plants, so the effective cost of energy is less than half that of diesel or gasoline fuel.

The three-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine alone produces 163 hp. BMW says the output of 109 hp per liter is the most power produced by a diesel engine. It’s small enough to fit ahead of the rear axle for better weigh distribution. Power travels to the rear wheels via a six-speed double-clutch transmission.

One electric motor, in back, sits between the diesel engine and transmission and produces 33 hp (51 hp peak). It can run on its own, without the combustion engine, making the Vision what’s considered an active hybrid, as opposed to a mild hybrid where the combustion engine always powers the car. The second motor powers the front axle; it produces 80 hp (continuous), 112 hp (30-second bursts), or 139 hp (10-second bursts). The two motors also act as brakes and regenerate power into the lithium polymer battery pack that runs in a tunnel along the floor of the car. Fuel for the diesel engine is in the rear of the tunnel (separate compartment; it doesn’t just slosh around the batteries).

The battery pack has enough juice to bring anyone back from cardiac arrest (or cause it): 98 lithium-polymer cells deliver 30 amp/hours at 3.7 volts, or 111 watt-hours. So each cell is about equal to two laptop batteries. For periods of up to 30 seconds, each cell develops 1,200 amps. Plug the Vision into a standard (in Europe) 220-volt, 16-amp circuit, and the car fully recharges in 2.5 hours. Uses 380 volts and 32 amps and you’re back on the road in 44 minutes. Conversely, you’d be looking at overnight plugged into 120 volt U.S. power…]


The space shuttle Atlantis is seen on launch pad 39a of the NASA Kennedy Space Center shortly after the rotating service structure was rolled back, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, Cape Canaveral, FL.  Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 2:28p.m. EST, Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) (h/t


Say cheese, Monsieur Sarkozy! You’re on The Simpsons

President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni appear in unauthorised episode of US show that coined ‘surrender monkey’ phrase

Guardian – Kim Willsher

First it coined the insult “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” to describe the French. Now America’s cult television series The Simpsons has taken a satirical shot at France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, the supermodel turned singer Carla Bruni.

An unauthorised cartoon parody of the couple, screened in the US more than a week ago, has become a surprise hit as tens of thousands of French web users viewed pirated clips of the episode.

The caricature contains the usual cliches Americans – and Britons – attribute to the French, portraying Bruni as a beautiful, cigarette-puffing, man-eating woman who quaffs red wine and has a husband who loves smelly cheese.

In the show, called The Devil Wears Nada, the bungling Homer Simpson and his superviser and friend, Carl Carlson, visit Paris. At a high-society reception they bump into Carla Bruni, caricatured as a femme fatale who speaks English with a heavy French accent.

After a brief exchange of flirtatious pleasantries in which Bruni asks Carl what he likes most about Paris (“The Louvre, everything about it is so, so closed on Mondays”) and whether they can have lunch, she remarks that he is clearly a man of the world and throws herself into his arms declaring: “I want to make love. Now.”

Later in the programme Carl threatens to have Homer sacked. In reply he threatens to call President Sarkozy.

“You know that woman you’ve been playing hide-the-baguette with? She’s the first lady of France, Carla Bruni,” says Homer.

“If you fire me I’ll call President Sarkozy and he’ll be all over you like Truffaut on Hitchcock,” he warns, a reference to Françcois Truffaut’s respectful book of interviews with the British-American director. This is seen as a dig at French cinema greats copying their American counterparts.

When Carl doubts his threat, Homer calls Sarkozy’s office. Viewers see the French president answering the phone at his desk in the Elysée Palace. In front of him is a plate of Camembert cheese and Carla is standing beside him swigging a glass of wine.

“Allo. You are getting cosy with Sarkozy,” says the French leader.

Although the episode was screened on 15 November, it has only just come to the attention of the French. Agence France Press reported more than 117,000 fans had linked to the Paris-based site DailyMotion on Friday alone to watch the clip.

Other world figures, including the former prime minister of Britain Tony Blair and the media magnate Rupert Murdoch, have been lampooned in the Simpsons, but recorded their own voices and escaped lightly with a gentle ribbing. Other famous figures to get The Simpsons treatment include Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, the Rolling Stones and the late Michael Jackson.

However, the Sarkozy episode was apparently made without the couple’s consent. The Elysée has made no comment on the programme.

French internet users responded to the caricature with mixed feelings.

The satirical site commented that President Sarkozy’s advisers must have been working all night to draw up a law for “right not to be caricatured” to defend the honour of the presidential family.

“If appearing in an American cartoon is a sign of being recognised, we’ve fallen a long way,” wrote JeMeMarre on the DailyMotion site.

He added: “Is it really good for the image of France to see the president appear in this rubbish called the Simpsons? At the same time, we cannot expect an American series to be intelligent and have good taste – that would be too much.”


Early Afternoon Liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) From Launch Pad 39A, November 16, 2009 NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center, State of Florida, USA (h/t


SVB determines no Christmas in Savannah…

‘Savannah Holly Days’ starts Friday

Event brings the holiday feeling to Broughton

Children await to play with the snow on Reynolds Square during last year's Savannah Holly Days. (Courtesy of Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Savannah Morning News, By Kenda Williams

Downtown Savannah and Broughton Street will transform into a winter wonderland Friday, complete with holiday movies, cookies and milk with Santa Claus, a skating rink and snow.

Savannah Holly Days is a two-day event that offers both visitors and locals a chance to enjoy the city and all of its beauty and offerings during the holidays.

“When you think about what makes a great city, it’s when the locals and visitors can come together and enjoy the same thing,” said Joseph Marinelli, president of the Savannah Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The event is based on the most important fundamentals,” Marinelli said. “When you think about the holidays, you want decorations, Santa Claus, carolers and your favorite holiday movies. We’ve taken what we think are the fundamentals and have the potential of creating a special holiday celebration.”

Friday will be filled with holiday shopping opportunities at merchants on and around Broughton Street, as well as a wine tasting event, a classic movie outside Il Pasticcio and outdoor skating.

This year, the outdoor skating rink has doubled in size. Event coordinators encourage participants to bring their own skates with them, if available.

On Saturday, children can have milk and cookies with Santa, and activities will start at 10 a.m. with a grand opening at Santa Stage.

Downtown will come alive with a snow area in Reynolds Square, the outdoor skating rink, a holiday marketplace and shopping on Broughton Street. Holiday movies will be shown at The Lucas Theatre, and Broughton Street will feature live entertainment, including music and dance performances.

“The snow area was the most popular part of last year,” Marinelli said. “It is wonderful seeing children in Savannah make snow angels.”

The name “Savannah Holly Days” is new and something the CVB hopes will become an umbrella for capturing “all of the terrific events going on throughout the holiday season in Savannah,” Marinelli said.

The event is a collaboration between the CVB, the Downtown Business Association, the city of Savannah and the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority.


International Space Station Orbiting High Above the Blue Sea and White Clouds, November 25, 2009 As Seen From Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) (h/t


‘Cash for Clunkers,’ household edition

Program expected to boost appliance sales as economy drags

The proposed program would encourage consumers to buy energy-efficient household appliances. (Jim R. Bounds/bloomberg News)

Washington Post – By Peter Whoriskey

In U.S. history, there may have been no better time to own a junk car, a rattling old fridge and a leaking dishwasher.

On the heels of its ballyhooed “Cash for Clunkers” program for cars, the federal government is expected to finalize details in the coming weeks of another tax-supported shopping extravaganza, known as “Cash for Appliances.”

Supported by $300 million from the economic stimulus, the program will offer rebates to consumers who buy energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditioners and other appliances to replace their older models.

And like the $3 billion cars program that gave consumers money for swapping their clunkers for more fuel-efficient rides, the appliance initiative seems destined to inspire shoppers, drive up sales for a while and profoundly divide economists over how much lasting good this chunk of government spending will do for the economy.

“The premise seems to be that for Americans to be richer, they need to throw out their old appliances faster — I don’t see it that way,” said James D. Hamilton, an economics professor at the University of California at San Diego, who has blogged about the clunkers rebates. “I don’t like the idea of just spending money for its own sake.”

While many economists believe that government incentives to lift consumer spending can boost the economy during a recession, they differ over whether the sales spikes that accompany the rebates are meaningful or merely concentrate sales that would have occurred before and after the rebate period anyway.

The Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers has indicated that the clunkers program provided a worthwhile boost even though many of the 690,000 clunkers sales would have happened anyway. In their baseline assessment, the program increased car sales in 2009 by 330,000.

Clunkers “is one of several stimulus programs whose purpose is to shift expenditures by households, businesses, and governments from the future to the present,” the council wrote in a September report. “Such time-shifting is valuable in a recession, when the economy has an abundance of unemployed resources that can be put to work at low net economic cost.”

The appliances program may be destined to continue the debate. For when it comes to stimulus, timing can be critical, and the implementation of the effort has dragged on, possibly diminishing its usefulness.

Although the $787 billion stimulus program was signed by Obama in February of 2009, much of the cash-for-appliances money won’t hit the streets until next February, March or April. The rebate program is being run by state governments, which must define and enact their rebate plans with federal government funding and approval. A survey of some of the largest states shows that California is planning to begin its program in March, New York in February, Pennsylvania in the spring, Illinois in January and April.

Under the program, Virginia is expected to receive $7.5 million, Maryland $5.4 million and the District $568,000, but the requirements and rebates have not yet been disclosed.

Now the home appliance manufacturers who celebrated the passage of the program worry that the delay in its implementation might actually depress sales at first, with consumers putting off purchases until the rebates begin.

“Our desire would be to see these programs rolled out as soon as funding is available,” said Jill Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “Unfortunately, you may have people saying, ‘It’s kind of on the blink, but we’ll wait.’ We wish that the states would follow the intent, which is to stimulate the economy now.”

The number of shipments of home appliances in the United States, which is closely linked to new home construction, is down 12 percent from last year, Notini said, and this comes after three years of decline…]


The International Space Station Backdropped By Cloudy Earth, November 25, 2009 As Seen From Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) (h/t



Success of White House party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi is disgrace for Secret Service

NY Daily News – BY Ronald Kessler

A pair of aspiring reality TV stars have become the first people ever to successfully crash a White House state dinner. Credits: Ngan/Getty

The fact that Michaele and Tareq Salahi were allowed into the White House in this dangerous age is a disgrace and symptomatic of lax standards at the Secret Service ever since it was absorbed by the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

Because of a lack of adequate funding, a management culture that considers itself invincible, as well as spinelessness when it comes to standing up to demands by those under protection – including the White House – the Secret Service takes chances that would have been unthinkable years ago.

That includes not putting people through magnetometers at all or shutting them down early when an event is about to start, and staffs apply pressure because attendees are waiting outside.

Last April, despite the fact that Vice President Biden‘s presence was announced beforehand, the Secret Service did no magnetometer screening whatsoever when Biden threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Orioles game in Baltimore.

When Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney‘s daughter, insisted that the Secret Service take her friends to restaurants and the detail refused, the Secret Service acceded to her request to have her detail leader removed.

My assumption is that the same kind of spinelessness motivated the Secret Service Uniformed Division officer at the White House to allow the couple through so as not to inconvenience them by requiring that they wait for the results of a background check before gaining admittance.

To its credit, the Secret Service made it clear that the agency simply ignored the fact that the couple were not on the guest list. Thus, the White House’s social secretary’s office did not vouch for the couple. Even if it had, they should have gone through a background check before being admitted.

The corner-cutting goes on despite the fact that threats against President Obama have been up 400% at times compared with when George W. Bush was in office.

While Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated, and will take a bullet for the President, Secret Service management has betrayed its trust to a shocking degree. Assassinations occur because of the kind of lapses we saw at the White House on Wednesday evening.

What is needed is a shakeup of Secret Service management, including replacement of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan with a director from the outside who will change the management culture. In addition, given the demands on it, the Secret Service’s $1.4 billion annual budget is pathetically small. It should be doubled or tripled.

What could be more important than protecting the President?


A Stylish State Dinner, With Typos


The White House pulled out all the stops in preparation for President Obama’s first state dinner on Tuesday night, hiring a new florist, selecting a renowned guest chef and even inviting a number of high-profile musicians to perform.

But one person the White House apparently neglected to hire was a spell checker.

The special dinner menu — a lavish mélange of Indian and American favorites as well as several excellent wines — was rife with typos.

The second course of the evening was paired, for example, with a delicious 2006 Brooks Riesling, which, the menu noted, was bottled in “Wilamette Valley, Oregon.”

A diligent copy editor would have changed that to the proper spelling, “Willamette Valley.”

For their third course, the 320 guests were offered a dish that, according to the menu, included potato dumplings with tomato chutney and “chick peas,” which should in fact have been “chickpeas.” That course, the menu noted, was paired with an excellent red wine, a “2007 Granache” from Beckmen Vineyards. The correct spelling of the popular varietal, one of the most widely planted types of red grape in the world, is actually “Grenache” with only one “a,” not two.

The last bottle of the night was equally impressive, a sparkling chardonnay from Virginia. It was listed as a “Thibaut Janisson Brut,” missing a hyphen between the first two words. And last but not least, the dessert may have been free of error in taste, but not so in spelling. It included, according to the menu, passion fruit and vanilla “Gelees,” the French word for “gelled,” which, when written correctly, includes an acute accent on the second “e.”

Related NYT Links


A Golden Sunset and Earth’s Thin, Blue Atmosphere, November 23, 2009 As Seen From the International Space Station (Expedition 21) (h/t


FAA Releases Transcripts of Northwest Flight That Overflew Minneapolis

New transcripts from the Northwest Airlines flight that overflew Minneapolis show air traffic controllers asking the crew about what happened, and whether they had enough fuel.

Air traffic controllers asked the Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew Minneapolis repeatedly about what had happened on the plane before the pilots responded, according to transcripts released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Oct. 21 flight, which took off from San Diego and overshot its Minneapolis destination by 150 miles, had been out of contact for 77 minutes before controllers re-established contact, leaving air traffic controllers scratching their heads.

The pilots, Timothy Cheney of Washington state and Richard Cole of Oregon, told them that they had been distracted, but didn’t elaborate.

The flight has become an embarrassment for the FAA. The agency suspended both pilots last month, saying they violated numerous federal safety regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

The pilots are appealing the decision.

The transcripts reveal the confusion of the flight, but fail to answer what may have distracted the pilots.

After regaining contact, the pilots and controllers spoke almost 90 seconds about the route they should take to Minneapolis before one of the controllers said, “I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure.”

“It is secure, we got distracted,” one of the pilots responded. The transcript says the pilot then said that they never heard a call from the ground.

A different controller took over and, after five more minutes of directions about routes and altitudes, asked, “Do you have time to give a brief explanation on what happened?”

“Cockpit distractions that’s all I can say,” was the response from Northwest Flight 188.

About 12 minutes after contact had been re-established, the same controller asked, “Is there any way you can elaborate on the distraction?”

The pilot said that they were dealing with some company issues, and “that’s all all I can tell you right now at this time,” according to the transcript.

Air traffic controllers ultimately had the pilots perform several turns to verify that they were in control of the plane. It landed safely in Minneapolis, and was met at the gate by police.

The transcripts also show controllers checking that the flight had enough fuel. The pilot responded that they had about two hours’ worth of fuel on board and that it wasn’t a concern.

The pilots have told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were discussing their company’s complicated new crew-scheduling program over their laptop computers as their plane flew past Minneapolis by 150 miles. Northwest was bought by Delta Air Lines Inc. last year, and the company has been working to integrate its computer systems.

Northwest Airlines Flight 188 (FAA October 23, 2009)


With Beautiful Blue-and-White Earth Below, Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) Approaches the International Space Station, November 18, 2009 As Seen From the International Space Station (Expedition 21) (h/t


Dubai Crisis May End in ‘Major’ Default, BofA Says

Bloomberg – By Tal Barak Harif

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) — Dubai’s debt woes may worsen to become a “major sovereign default” that roils developing nations and cuts off capital flows to emerging markets, Bank of America Corp. said.

“One cannot rule out — as a tail risk — a case where this would escalate into a major sovereign default problem, which would then resonate across global emerging markets in the same way that Argentina did in the early 2000s or Russia in the late 1990s,” Bank of America strategists Benoit Anne and Daniel Tenengauzer wrote in a report.

A default would lead to a “sudden stop of capital flows into emerging markets” and be a “major step back” in the recovery from the global financial crisis, they wrote.

Emerging-market stocks around the world have slumped for two days on concern a debt restructuring by Dubai World, with $59 billion of liabilities, will add to the $1.72 trillion of losses and writedowns from the global credit freeze. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 1.9 percent to 940.30 as of 1:55 p.m. in New York, extending this week’s decline to 2.6 percent.

Dubai, which borrowed $80 billion in a four-year construction boom to transform its economy into a tourism and financial hub, suffered the world’s steepest property slump in the recession. Home prices fell 50 percent from their 2008 peak, according to Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG.

‘Best-Case Scenario’

“In a best-case scenario, this will remain limited to a Dubai corporate sector problem, with either some bailout from UAE authorities or a market-friendly debt restructuring,” they wrote.

Bank of America estimates that Dubai’s debt totals $88 billion, and that its external debt equals 103 percent of gross domestic product, according to a separate report.

South Korea’s won lost 1.7 percent, the biggest slump among 25 emerging-market currencies, followed by the Philippine peso.

The extra yield investors demand to own developing nations’ bonds instead of U.S. Treasuries swelled 14 basis points, the most in a month, to 3.24 percentage points, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI+ Index.

Dubai’s state-owned companies’ credits were downgraded by Fitch Ratings today, and by Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s earlier this week, on concern the government’s ability to support lenders will be constrained after Dubai’s attempt to delay debt repayments…]

Related Dubai Links:

Dubai: Gauging the Impact

Is Dubai’s Default a Black Swan Event?

Dubai in deep water as ripples from debt crisis spread


High Above Earth’s Rugged Terrain, Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) Departs From the International Space Station, November 25, 2009 As Seen From the International Space Station (Expedition 21) (h/t



Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) High Above the Mediterranean Sea, Near the Coast of Algeria, November 25, 2009 As Seen From the International Space Station (Expedition 21) (h/t



The International Space Station Orbits Over A Blue-and-White Earth, Backdropped By the Blackness of Space, November 25, 2009 As Seen From Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) (h/t


Federal Reserve tries theater ads to burnish its image

Spots urging shoppers to use their credit cards wisely will be shown on big screens in 12 U.S. cities. The central bank has long been accused of neglecting its consumer protection duties.

LA Times By Jim Puzzanghera

The Federal Reserve isn’t too popular these days, what with its failure to predict or prevent the financial crisis and recession, not to mention its involvement in last year’s bailouts. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has a bestselling book out called “End the Fed,” and some lawmakers are looking to cut back the central bank’s power.

It sounds like a perfect time for an ad campaign.

The Fed has made a 45-second public service announcement to help consumers use their credit cards wisely. The spot will run before movie previews at theaters in 12 U.S. cities, including Long Beach, from Friday through Dec. 3.

Over jazzy music, the announcer asks: “Want to use your credit card wisely? Here are some tips you can trust from the Federal Reserve.” With the Fed logo featured prominently, the ad offers suggestions such as paying your bill on time and watching for changes in the terms of the account.

The Fed has been under fire for neglecting its consumer protection authority for years — particularly for taking 14 years to enact rules protecting consumers from unscrupulous mortgage lending.

In April and September, the Fed ran public-service ads in cinemas in California, Florida and other states devastated by the housing crash advising viewers how to avoid foreclosure scams.

The latest ad, which comes as people are expected to flock to holiday movies, could help improve the Fed’s battered image as Congress weighs an overhaul of financial regulations. Plus, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will be on Capitol Hill on Dec. 3 for a hearing on his renomination for a second four-year term.

With sentiment against the Fed running high, that event promises to be a Washington blockbuster.