Evaluating a great philosopher after 40 years

One of America’s greatest poet-philosophers, Merle Haggard, released “Are the Good Times Really Over” 40 years ago. Now that we’re in the last month of 2021, it seems like a good time to see how things panned out.

I wish a buck was still silver
And it was back when country was strong
Back before Elvis and before Viet Nam war came along
Before the Beatles and “Yesterday”
When a man could still work and still would
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
And are the good times really over for good?

That buck that Haggard sang about in 1981 is now worth about 30 cents. Silver cost $10.50 in 1981 and was about $28 in mid-2021. So, actually Haggard was correct in thinking that a silver dollar would hold a roughly constant value.

Did we recover from our loss in the Vietnam War and become strong again? Not strong enough to defeat a peasant army in Afghanistan.

“When a man could still work and still would”? I don’t think Haggard envisioned that the term “man” would become undefined. Can someone who identifies as a “man” still work? Yes. Would a “man” work? The Richmond Fed, based on BLS data, says “no” (male labor force participation rate down from 80 percent (1970) to 69 percent (just before coronapanic) to somewhere south of 69 percent today:

What about the “best of the free life”? For those in means-tested public housing, getting health care via Medicaid, and shopping with SNAP/EBT, the free life is better than ever. But maybe Professor Haggard meant free as in “liberty”. In that case, we’re free to follow governors’ and the president’s orders to get vaccinated (and inject children as well, so that they don’t die from a pernicious killer of 82-year-olds), wear a mask, refrain from gathering, etc.

Are we rollin’ down hill like a snowball headed for hell
With no kind of chance for the flag or the Liberty Bell
I wish a Ford and a Chevy would still last ten years

Fords and Chevys are way better than they were in 1981, so his wishes were granted! What about his wish for the flag? As long as he wanted rainbow flags to have a chance, that wish was also granted.

Before microwave ovens
When a girl could still cook
And still would

So many issues with the above that I won’t even comment!

Happy December to friends who are still in the frozen north!

17 thoughts on “Evaluating a great philosopher after 40 years

  1. The female labor participation rate still shows them going back to cooking after 2008. What a surprise for generation X who manely hooked up from 2000-2005 to find the male breadwinner was actually the future. Suspect the overall decline since 2008 was from a lot of people buying stocks at the bottom & retiring after the government reinflated valuations.

  2. As a former owner of 2 Fords sadly none of them lasted even close to 10 years. I am a mere mortal driver who uses cars as a utility. It seems that electronics in Ford is just thrown in, SUV wheel axles crack on medium size road bumps. Ford engines however are much better now then before although unofficial long term speed limit still remains under 80 mph; breakdowns start at 80 mph. GM is another story but first think I do is tighten up all engine compartment connections ad later give it to my mechanic to tighten it all professionally; GM repairs are many and costly. But I am kind of hooked on GM.

  3. Frozen north? 70 degrees here today (and yesterday and forecasted tomorrow) in Ft. Collins, CO!

  4. @LSI: If you own a Ford truck like an F150 or are thinking of buying one, remember to check out Ford Tech Makuloco on YouTube. He makes his living sorting out the damage, particularly on engines like the 5.4L 3 valve engines with the variable cam timing. He has a pile of dead phasers bigger than Starfleet and Captain Kirk ever imagined.

    I think a lot of Bad Things happened to Ford in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. There are just too many quality control problems and engineering vs. beancounting decisions to list here. I still run my 2010 Escape Hybrid but I have to stay on top of it. At one time it had the best and most effective battery thermal management system of any Hybrid vehicle but in 2010 Ford just sliced half of it out and didn’t talk about it in the marketing brochures. It’s a shame. The 2005-2012 Escape Hybrids are excellent vehicles but their life was cut short as Ford tried to economize and bring in a lot more Euro-spec design cars. Infamous. This was the next generation after mine – cars that are almost impossible to work on and unaffordable to people who need them worked on. Rumor has it that the 2021+ models are much better after Ford learned their lesson the hard way. In the meantime, watch how you have to remove the doors on the car to fix a flap that controls airflow in the climate control system:


    • Maybe I will try buying Ford once more, F-150 sure looks tempting. My wallet tells me otherwise but maybe.

    • @LSI: There are good used ones out there. You have to find a mechanic you can trust and understand the likely problems. Exhaust manifold ticking. Cam phasers. Bad spark plugs/counterfeit Chinese spark plugs in Motorcraft packaging from eBay.

      However, well cared for they can go 200,000, 300,000 or more miles! On any used vehicle like this, even a dealer vehicle with a clean CARFAX, get an independent inspection or you’ll be singing more Merle Haggard songs.

      This truck looks great outside. Then FTM goes to the underbelly where all the sad country music songs really begin. Get out your guitar and start writing up this tale of woe. Good luck and I’m sure you’ll use your Low Skilled Intellect. Lol. 🙂

    • Aaaaaand….we’re back with the car. It has taken more than 5.5 hours to complete a ~210 or so mile round trip because of an accident on I-95 Northbound in New Haven. Only two cars but it created such a huge gawker/triple overtime situation that it took almost an hour to go 1.5 miles through New Haven.

      Anyway, the car seems like it’s been fixed. The engine is running well. The climate control is working properly. There are no hitches or stumbles. The transmission (CVT) is working as it should We took a detour back through Route 7 in CT (thus we had to go South to go back North) which entails about 30 miles of residential driving so the car had a mix of low-speed and highway driving on the way home, with zero issues thus far. This is a 2011 Subaru Outback with more than 120,000 miles on it. It’s a long story why we decided to buy it. We needed it and had a lady of the house who was becoming increasingly acidic and vituperative about not having a proper carriage, and this car looked *great* and was in our price range.

      Except it immediately started overheating once we bought it.

      The dealer we bought it from pledged to make it right if we bought the parts, for $0.00 installation and testing. At least so far he seems to be holding up his end of the bargain. If it stays this way, it was a good deal overall. The car was excellent in every other respect and it had not been a submarine recently.

      @Bill T.: Thank you for the kind words, but my Dad deserves all the credit. Sometimes in the interest of frugality and self-reliance he tries to push things one step too far, and there was too much money on the line to try this experiment with a vehicle we now *need* to have for this winter. We’ve already had our first 4″ snowfall where I live and my mother needs a safe, stable vehicle for the snow.

  5. Fords and Chevys are better cars dynamically, in terms of accidents, noise vibration harshness fuel economy and so forth. But they are no longer easy or straightforward to work on. Without really good diagnostic software like this piece of Russian reverse-engineering, a lot of people are completely in the dark when it comes to diagnostics, and thus at the mercy of the local repair shop or dealership, some of whose technicians don’t know any more than the person who owns the car.

    The “shade tree mechanic” working with hand tools and a basic “air, spark, fuel” understanding of vehicles is in for a big surprise on a car like my ’10 FEH, in which *everything* is controlled by the modules in the network. Steering, brakes, the power output of the engine, regenerative braking, all the transaxle modes, and just about everything else.

    So Merle Haggard would need to become a nerd to write that song now. He might get 10 or more years out of the vehicle, but he’d need to understand the difference between a PID and a DTC to get the FEH back on the R O A D.

    Russian Software Warning: It works great. I keep it off the network. I use it only for its intended purpose. I paid with PayPal. So far everything’s been A+, no shenanigans.


    • Alex, I like GM engineering and last top tier of Silverado with upgrades lasted long time and I could tighten it up myself when it would not start on me and gave it to an experienced GM-certified mechanic to tighten it up professionally once and for good, while it was on the warranty, free of charge. Both advanced variable cylinders V8 engine and frame held up great; there were no obvious electronics failures as in my older Fords; I ran it for over the decade and one of new mechanics was surprised that it had only “first” 160 K miles on it and called it a new vehicle and predicted more 500 K miles on it. When I sold it two people were disappointed that I did not tell them first, they wanted it. But it had regular bi-annual emission systems issues that were costly even though it would always drive unlike Ford; teenagers used it to learn to drive and off-road; it hauled loads for hundreds and thousands miles one way an once at 150K its axle broke on the road thankfully on the return trip while it was not loaded (no doubt due being abused on and off-road by learners) but it failed safely; it was bruised from learners and other drivers who did not realize it was a pick-up track did not feel its size. Last in part because it handled on the road better then most cars and had comfortable luxury cabin with little noise.
      I thought buying another one as I miss its capabilities but now you got me worrying.

    • @LSI: I think right now the used vehicle market is troubled because of the inflation that’s happened combined with the new vehicle “supply chain problems.” I think we’re seeing more marginal vehicles being “spruced up” with jacked-up prices hitting the market and the people unfamiliar with the term Caveat Emptor who nevertheless NEED a replacement truck are getting hosed more frequently as a result. Disreputable sellers know they can charge a premium to the ignorant/unobservant/desperate so you have to exercise caution. You sound like you understand what you’re doing and if you just take your time and are choosy you’ll be fine.

      Prime example: about a month ago, my father saw a used van for sale like one that we use and have almost worn out. Well, it was actually a salvage car that was shuffled through Rhode Island after being sold in New York State with a salvage title because it got sunk like a depth-charged Uboat during the floods that happened in the tristate NJ/NY/CT area. He actually asked me to look at the car, which the “dealer” was trying to unload at what would have been a bargain price. It was obvious with a little close inspection that this car had been flooded up to the middle of the passenger compartment vertically. There were subtle water stains on all the windows that the “flipper” had not taken the time to completely eradicate. Then I pulled up the edge of one area of the carpet and found moisture. That car had been a submarine. It looked GREAT!

    • I do not see reasons of buying a used vehicle now with recent 40% price jump. New vehicles are still available; price jumped 9% of course but low percentage rate financing is available even on very reliable if somewhat noisy and not very fuel efficient Japanese cars.

    • If this is the real Alex (1.0?)… how did the tow go? Were you able to transport the car or did you end up getting it towed. Don’t leave us hanging we want all of the details.

    • @Toucan Sam: We had it flatbedded to the mechanic at a cost of $375. My parents did not have the top-tier AAA membership, just middle tier, and they would not have done that kind of pickup and delivery in any case, unless we lied to them. But the pick up address would have been the same as our billing address.

      So I paid for the tow.

      I prevailed over my father with reason, not derision. His theory of trying to drive slowly and keep adding coolant after removing the thermostat was based on his diagnosis that the engine was overheating not just because of the head gaskets but because of insufficient coolant flow due to a possibly defective thermostat. He believed that maximum unobstructed coolant flow would be sufficient to keep the engine cool enough to avoid further damage.

      I shot that argument down. I said to him: “From the coolant we’ve seen exiting the engine, we know they tried to put stop leak in this car. I think the head gaskets are blown so that they expel hot combustion gas into a water jacket, heating the coolant and causing it to boil over, regardless of how much is flowing through the closed (or fully open) thermostat. In other words, you have constant combustion heat going through the gasket into a place it is not meant to be. If you do that for two hours, you might warp or damage the head(s) beyond repair. Then you need new cylinder heads at the very least. If you warp the heads enough, you’ll seize the engine. Then we’re looking at another $3 grand minimum.

      That explanation prevailed.

      The mechanic completed the work and we’re going to pick up the car this afternoon. He claims that he didn’t like the head gaskets I bought (FelPro Premium) and instead ordered a set of Super Uber Killer Monster head gaskets from a Legacy Turbo. He says: “They will never blow again.”

      We’ll see. I’ll report back when we return.

    • Also, we supplied all the other components including the timing belt, a new water pump, tensioners, pulleys, A/C serpentine power steering and alternator, etc. This model Subaru 2.5l “boxer” is an “interference” engine which means if the timing belt snaps, the valvetrain loses synch. with the crankshaft and the pistons catastrophically contact the valves. So I wanted brand new components in there, good for at least another 100,000 miles.

      The seller of the car had assured us that the timing belt had been done less than 30,000 miles ago but I don’t believe anyone anymore about anything. 🙂

    • I had a 2005 forrest xt. Most likely the same engine you are dealing with. At nearly 200,000 miles mine experienced similar symptoms. To make a long story short it blew a rod while a family member was driving. It is unlikely they had any concept of how much oil was in the engine as they never checked it! Glad to hear you saved yours.

    • @Alex “I prevailed over my father with reason, not derision.” That’s a truly impressive familial achievement. If we could find another 100 million guys like Alex, the U.S. wouldn’t be doomed.

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