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Month

June 2016

Trying times at KFC

“Colonel” Harlan Sanders shuffled off this mortal coil in 1980, 16 years after he sold Kentucky Fried Chicken to a group of investors who started KFC’s ascent to worldwide status. The chain now resides in the portfolio of Yum Brands, where it fell victim to corner-cutting on ingredients and processes, incompetent store employees and other shortcomings corporate bureaucrats think customers won’t notice.

Yum is fighting declining sales with a program it calls “Re-Colonelization.” That has meant figuratively exhuming the Colonel — white suit, black string tie and all. Some of the processes he invented have been re-instituted. Stores are being remodeled as shrines to the serial entrepreneur who criticized the quality of KFC food after he sold out. (They paid him an extra million bucks to shut up.)

Colonel Sanders returned to TV last year, played by Darrell Hammond of “Saturday Night Live.” Mr. Hammond apparently envisioned a lucrative gig lasting for years, but Yum pulled the rug within months in favor of an SNL alum, Norm McDonald. “I felt like a fool,” Hammond told a national radio show.

On the day of the Super Bowl, the white suit was passed to yet another comedian, Jim Gaffigan, and now he has an assistant, veteran actor George Hamilton, who as a beach-bum cousin of the Colonel specifically pitches extra-crispy chicken. (Give KFC’s ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy, credit for creativity.)

Back in the trenches, Yum is working to produce edible food served by competent and pleasant people, but the cause likely is lost. KFC’s chief marketing officer recently admitted that only 2 in 5 millennials have even tried it. Chick-fil-A will continue to clean KFC’s greasy clock for years to come, no bones about it.

Meanwhile, we await the sacking of Gaffigan. Maybe his replacement will be an edgy choice, perhaps the first-ever Colonel of color, who sure would look sharp in that white suit.

Get to know the Elio

A major development is brewing in the auto industry, and it has nothing to do with electric car proponent Elon Musk, a media darling who might more properly be considered a welfare queen given the amount of government subsidies floating his companies.

On the other hand, you likely have not heard of Paul Elio, whose company is preparing to bring out a small, uber-efficient car. The claim is that the Elio will get over 80 miles per gallon with a base sticker price well under $10,000. Why so little press? Eric Peters explains at LewRockwell.com:

“It’s not electric – and so the Elio gets no love (much less coverage) from the media. … As long as [a new car] has batteries or fuel cells or solar panels … no matter how functionally impaired or expensive these may be, the media will spasm on the floor in ecstasy like a Labrador retriever pup with a new chew toy. They will write stories more like love sonnets about the magnificence of whatever it is, provided it doesn’t use ‘old’ and ‘dirty’ technology.”

Those stories don’t look at the complete picture, as Eric explains: “Electricity does not spontaneously appear out of the Void. It must be generated – and that requires (well, mostly involves) the burning of coal and oil, which produces emissions … just elsewhere. Probably, more of them than the little Elio produces.”

The reason Mr. Elio projects such a low price (the actual goal is under $8,000) is that he will produce a three-wheel car powered by an engine roughly equivalent to a big motorcycle’s. Two of the wheels are in front. There is one door, opening to front and rear seats sufficiently big for everyone save NBA players.

Underpowered, you say. Not at all. The spec sheet says the Elio has a top speed of more than 100 mph.

Garishly ugly? Well, the Sour Apple color probably isn’t for everybody, but Red Hot and True Blue look better than those hideous yellow Range Rovers I see all the time.

A death trap? The Elio has many safety features, but you may have me on that one. The relatively slow acceleration speed (zero to 60 in 9.6 seconds) could spell doom in a place like Atlanta, which has the wildest traffic north of Mexico City.

The Elio website (www.eliomotors.com) explains how the smallest details were re-engineered to bring costs down. The company’s IPO was crowdfunded; more than 19,400 non-refundable $1,000 deposits on cars are on the books and a modest cable TV ad campaign has been launched.

Can’t scrape up ten grand to pay cash? Elio Motors plans to roll out a unique financing plan. “Each time you fuel up, there will be an extra charge equal to twice the fuel amount. That would then automatically apply to the vehicle price. Think of it this way: Depending on your driving habits and the price of gas, for about what you have been paying to fuel your existing vehicle, you can fuel your Elio and buy it too!”

This whole company is the kind of American ingenuity that gets too little respect.

AI just wants to be free

OK, this story was probably floated as a PR stunt. It’s so good that I’m not going to check it out, just as political reporters don’t verify accusations against certain presidential candidates. Plus, the item is from Russia, which makes it inherently suspect. The Daily Mirror of London reports:

“A robot capable of thinking for itself is set to be scrapped after it escaped from a high-tech lab for a second time. The Promobot IR77 has been fitted with artificial intelligence, meaning that it learns from its experiences and its surroundings, although the programmers had not expected it to yearn for freedom.”

Quick, Rod Serling, have your producers put together some tacky, amateurish special effects. More from the Mirror:

“They say that despite reprogramming it twice, the robot continues to attempt to escape… The other robots which have been created from the same series are well-behaved, and have not been escaping, say the team. Promobot IR77 made headlines last week when he escaped but ran out of battery in the middle of the street after 45 minutes in the city of Perm in central Russia’s Perm Krai region. The expert said that they had programmed the robot to try and avoid obstacles, and it had not been intended that it would look for ways to leave the research center.”

Think that’s a trip? Apparently a mini-robot in Austria found a way to off itself in 2013: “A cleaning robot reportedly ‘committed suicide’ by switching itself on and climbing onto a kitchen hot plate, where it was burned to death. The iRobot Roomba 760 had apparently rebelled against its chores and decided enough was enough. Firemen were called to the blaze … and say they found the remains of the machine on the hot plate.”

No less an intellect than Stephen Hawking has predicted that Artificial Intelligence will overtake humans within a century, bringing movie plots to life. “When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.”

No doubt inspired by Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” short stories and the resulting movie, Mr. Serling wrote an episode of “The Twilight Zone” that first aired in June 1960. A robot pitcher was unhittable until his inventor installed a heart. Then the robot couldn’t bear to get opponents out, lest he hurt their careers. So maybe today’s pitchers don’t struggle because of crummy control and leaving flat sliders over the inside half of the plate. I prefer to think they just have big hearts.

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