Jack Explains It All: How High Real Estate Values Created The Foodie Explosion

Welcome to a new feature, called Jack Explains It All, in which I share the most insane (or perceptive?) ideas about how society and human nature interact — jb

“It has always been crucial to the gourmet’s pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford.” This sentence, from “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies”, made a big impression on me six years ago, serving as it does to place the “refined palate” in its proper place next to gold-plated toilet fixtures, exotic pets, and the repugnant Bentley Continental GTC as a blank-faced sigifier of mere wealth, independent of education or authentic refinement. “The Roman historian Livy,” gripes B.R. Myers in the article, “famously regarded the glorification of chefs as the sign of a culture in decline.” It’s a great read, vicious and contemptuous by turns, and as perceptive today as it was when it was published. (Mr. Myers is also responsible for another one of my favorite sentences: “…when feminists are denouncing marriage, the last thing they want is a happy bachelor chiming in.”)

Traditional art and literature have no place in the mind of the truly dedicated foodie, something that is reiterated for me about once a month when some would-be critic of mine stammers his way through a borderline-illiterate rant about how my well-documented fondness for the Ruth’s Chris steakhouse chain places me very nearly beneath his contempt. I have unbridled disdain for people who think they are cultured because of what is currently making its rotting way through their bowels. The concept that we are defined by what we eat and drink is a relic of pagan antiquity and Jewish desert hygiene; Christ takes care to specifically reject this in Matthew 15:11. The later Christian intellectual tradition abandons even the custom of fasting, which was once held to have immense spiritual benefits.

Note that I have nothing against the idea of enjoying a meal. I simply believe that your preference for a particular sort of wine is no more intellectually elevated than my preference for Sprite over 7Up, and that your rigorous approach to rating and categorizing cheese is in no way morally superior to my belief that Guns N’ Roses was a better band than Motley Crue. It’s all low culture, and you can prove it to yourself by considering this question: If you had a time machine that would give you thirty minutes to talk to Issac Newton or the Apostle Paul or Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan, how much of that time would you devote to a discussion of what you had for dinner last night?

Speaking of Caesar: I come not to bury foodies, but to explain them. More precisely, I come to explain why being a “foodie” is a big deal with Millennials and other young people. Turns out that it has very little to do with the actual merits of gourmet eating. It’s better understood as an issue of hydraulic pressure.

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All The Money We Didn’t Save By Going To China

Things to do in Denver when you’re dead… tired, and have just three hours before your flight leaves: go to a bike shop and look around. Google Maps said there was a shop just eight miles from the airport, so I went to check it out. Turns out that the “shop” in question was actually the factory outlet for Tomasso Bikes.

As far as I could tell, Tomasso operates the same way that Bike Nashbar used to: they have frames built overseas and then they load ’em up with slightly better components than you would get on a “name-brand” bike like Trek or Cannondale. Aluminum Tomassos are made in Taiwan, carbon Tomassos in mainland China. To some degree, quick-bake companies like this have been rendered obsolete by Giant, which owns both the means of Chinese proudction and the means of American distribution. (This is why a Giant is almost always the best deal on a new bike, if you are purely concerned with specs.) Compared to those old Nashbar bikes, however, Tommasos are very handsome. They make a rather striking “hybrid” bike in military green, which was the first thing I saw when I walked in the door.

The fellow who came out to talk to me and show me a few bikes was on crutches, having been hit by a car during a road ride seven weeks ago. He’d gotten a femur nail, so we had a long conversation about that particular surgery and its consequences. I was an experimental recipient of a Grosse-Kempf titanium nail back in March of 1988. Luckily for my new friend, his break was much less severe than mine had been. He’d gone for a short bike ride just six weeks after the nail went in. At that point in my recovery I was still confined to bed 24/7.

Hanging on the wall across from that army-green hybrid bike was a drop-bar roadie, something about halfway between a tourer and a full-bore racer: the Corvo. It has the full Shimano 105 “gruppo”, which is to say that most of the parts on it are supplied by Shimano and that they are all “105” level. When I was a kid, Shimano had just three road-bike gruppos: Dura-Ace on top, 600 Ultegra in the middle, and 105 at the low end. Now there’s Tiagra below 105, and a few cheap-bike-specific gruppos like Sora and Claris. (A full explanation can be found here, if you care.)

“The Corvo is $1,699, which is a ripping deal for a full 105 bike,” my salesman said. By modern standards he’s right. And yet… if $1,699 is what you’d pay for a generic Chinese bike with Shimano 105, how much would you pay for an American-made bike with full 105? Would you be okay with… $1,282?

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Sandberg Comes Alive, Disc 2

Do you know who Sheryl Sandberg is or why she might possibly be of importance? If not, you can read TLP on the subject. (Short version: she is permitted to exist because her existence sells middle-class women on the idea of working harder for the same amount of money.) You can also read my thoughts on her Surprising! Survival! of a plane crash that occurred while she was somewhere else.

Two year ago, Mrs. Sandberg’s (second) husband died. Dave Goldberg was a VP at Yahoo Music when he met Sandberg, who was a VP at Google. The most fervent Jew-haters at the Chateau Heartiste couldn’t come up with a more stereotypical story than this bloodless partnership of two oddly wealthy, work-obsessed people whose last name contains “berg” and whose entire reason for notability revolves around yet a third “berg” — Mark Zuckberg of Facebook fame.

But then Sheryl (Maiden Name) Sandberg became SHERYL SANDBERG, and her husband became a nonentity. Maybe a better way to say it would be that Dave was always a nonentity. He was always one of these people who bumbles around NorCal and repeats the right buzzwords and earns a mid-six-figure salary because of it. Much of the American economy as it currently exists revolves around people like this. They drive a non-F-model Lexus and they are house-poor and they clog up the line at Whole Foods because they are asking unnecessary questions. They support “Black Lives Matter” from the security of their gated communities. They drive a Prius for the environment but breathlessly boast about brief rides on the company jet. They are interchangeable. They have mastered duckspeak. Their primary value is in never having said or done anything that prevents further mild advancement in the hierarchy.

But then Sheryl became a billionaire, earning more in a week than her husband does in a year. So Dave faded into potbellied, underdressed obscurity. Having become completely unnecessary to the Sandberg Five-Year plan, he then had the decency to die, so Sheryl could write a book about how she survived this tragedy.

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To Serve, And Protect, The Story

A few years ago, in the first few rumbles of the H1-B avalanche that cut the legs out from under a whole generation of young men who had dutifully followed the advice of their guidance counselors into comp-sci degrees, I learned a fascinating phrase: “do the needful.” Indian men of a certain age say it as shorthand for handle your business. “Krishna, we haven’t had a software deployment in three days, so if you do the needful I will restart the broker service.” The Millennials from the subcontinent consider it very fuddy-duddy, like saying “Daddy-O” or, come to think of it, “fuddy-duddy.”

Anyway, last week I “did the needful” and checked my LinkedIn mailbox. It would be difficult for me to adequately express my contempt for the entire concept of LinkedIn in any context other than perhaps an opera of Wagnerian scale and dynamic range. I can see it now, actually. The incomparable Renee Fleming belting out that G6 while she plunges a flaming sword into the heart of LinkedIn’s founder on a Parthenon-esque stage made from the bleached-white bones of every “marketing professional” in the United States, floating in a moat of blood drawn from the jugular of every woman who has ever used “dialogue” as a verb in a meeting. The chorus swells with a threatening minor. Certain chairs in the audience are connected to 500,000 volts of power, frying the skullcaps right off anyone who works for a consulting firm in any main-office capacity. Jesper Christensen leans over to the woman next to him and quips, “Well, Tosca is not for everyone!” You get the idea.

I have to “do the needful” periodically because every once in a great while someone of interest will contact me. Last month I heard from the fellow who sold me my 911 fifteen years ago. I’d given him up for dead. The vast majority of my Inbox, however, consists of LinkedIn spam and “connection” attempts from third-tier PR staff at electronics-accessory companies. Lately, however, I’ve started to notice a new trend: people who want some sort of advice from me about “becoming a writer”.

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…Not Weak Like Dad, Whoever He Is Anyway

It’s the latest sortie in the modern left-wing Kulturkampf: a six-dollar shirt from Target for boys that says “Strong Like Mom.” You don’t need me to tell you how various groups of people have reacted to it. The HuffPo says that “Parents Everywhere Are Loving” this shirt. That would be the “everywhere” that doesn’t include Islamic states, China, Japan, India, South America and all the places that haven’t abandoned the idea of so-called gender roles. And the “everywhere” doesn’t include much of the United States, either. In fact, it’s safe to say that “Everywhere” means “Coastal California And Gentrified Areas Of NYC.” Those are the only places that matter, you know. It’s no coincidence that another shirt in the same clothing line says “Brooklyn” on it. That’s the modern-day Brooklyn-as-playground-for-white-people, mind you, not the Brooklyn where my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather lived, where you didn’t bother to buy a radio in your new car and you didn’t let your wife leave the house after dark.

On the other side of America’s cultural divide, a lot of people are writing about the “feminization” of boys, the “War On Boys”, and similar topics. It seems obvious on the face of it that this is a shirt for you-go-girl types, the mothers who were on “Slut Walk” in 2008 and in the maternity ward come the spring of 2009. It’s virtue signaling, both for the moms and for the feckless, terrified fathers who acquiesce to this shit so they can be excused from the table to play video games until Mom has finished reading her favorite part of Fifty Shades Darker and diddled herself to sleep.

But I don’t want to talk about any of that. I don’t even want to talk about the hugely unpleasant message that you send when you dress your First World child in a six-dollar-retail shirt that almost certainly exploits the labor of children, indigenous people, and other disadvantaged groups. I mean, if American Apparel can’t keep its head above water charging $39 for shirts that were mostly sewn by “undocumented” immigrants in the old Los Angeles warehouse district, I doubt that Target has managed to ensure the availability of clean drinking water and safe working conditions for the six-dollar shirt factory. In fact, I’ll betcha that it’s one of those “pad check” places where women have to submit bloody sanitary napkins every month to prove that they haven’t gotten pregnant. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)

What I want to discuss is a simple series of related questions: Do parents have a right to use their children as billboards? Do parents have a right to dress their children in a way that reflects the beliefs of the parents and not the beliefs of the children? Where are the lines between identification, exploitation, and brainwashing? Last but not least, what am I, your humble author, doing to my son by including him in what I write?

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Nicholas Michael Pearson, 1969-2017

I came back from Sebring on Monday night, set my phone down, and started writing a few things for the upcoming week. When I looked at my phone again it was blinking furiously with messages from people trying to reach me: via Instagram, through my brother, through mutual friends. I called one of them back. “There’s no easy way to say it,” he told me. “We lost Nick tonight.”

My God, I thought, some idiot killed him in his own car. Nick was in the process of trying to sell his one-owner 2004 SRT-4. Since he’d never harbored any ill will towards anyone, Nick always assumed the same of others. He must have let some kid test-drive the 400-horsepower Neon on those Kentucky backroads. Must have gone with him to explain how the car worked. Things must have gone wrong. For a moment, I fervently hoped that the driver had suffered unimaginable pain before dying himself.

But it wasn’t so. Nick had been training for the next BMX race on his rollers, right next to his wife on her elliptical machine, when the heart attack happened. He didn’t make it to the hospital.

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…Not Because They Are Easy

It was the sound of a car horn that woke me up, I think. I was tangled face-down in a ditch, my left foot still “clipped in” to the Look Sport pedal on the Cannondale SR500 road bike that lay spiky and scratchy across my back. The only identifiable item in my field of vision was the black Vetta Corsa helmet a few feet in front of my face.

How long had I been unconscious? And what had happened, exactly? This was what I knew: it was early in 1987, winter time, a bit below freezing, the roads salted but the fields (and ditches!) around my neighborhood still blanketed with snow. Early that morning, I’d joined the local high-speed low-drag roadie club for a fifty-mile training ride. As I recall, I was the only teenager in the group, and I was certainly the least experienced rider, but they were the only people who were doing that kind of riding and they’d grudgingly allowed me a spot at the back of the pack. I was under-supplied with cold-weather gear, having bought all of my stuff used from customers of the bike shop where I worked, and I knew that it was going to snow that day, but I didn’t want the various “Cat 3” college-aged dudes in the club to think I was a coward, so I showed up anyway.

At some point, I’d been dropped off the back as the snow started to come down thick and fast. I’d missed a turn in unfamiliar territory, and added maybe two hours to my ride as I tried to figure out the way back to my house. That was the last thing I remembered before the whole waking-up-in-the-ditch thing. As for how I’d gotten into the ditch, there was no way to figure that out. It was a 45-mph two-lane about two miles from where I lived, usually chock-filled with impatient drivers. My best guess: I’d been sideswiped by a car, lost my helmet on the way down (because, like the cool Cat 3 guys, I left it unbuckled) and hit my head on something under the snow when I landed in the ditch. My left leg was throbbing, which seemed to support that hypothesis.

I gathered myself up, clipped back in, and rode the short distance home. My hands and feet were completely numb. I ran a cold bath and dropped myself in; it felt like a bed of nails heated up to crimson with a blowtorch. I did not vomit, although I wanted to. Three days later, I showed up for the evening ride. “Did you drop off up near Delaware?” one of the older riders asked.

“Uh, yeah,” I replied, conscious of the skinned knuckles behind my cheap gloves. “I wanted to try for seventy-five.”

“Good man,” was the response. “For a guy who races kids’ bikes, you’re alright.” My hands stopped hurting as if by magic. An hour or so later, I took my first-ever stint at the front of the pace line, huddled over on the drop bars and turning the big ring at a constant 90rpm, a string of multicolored bikes and riders trailing for five hundred feet behind me, my teeth chattering in triple-time to the metronome of the rolling road.

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This Fleeting Prestige

Tell me you didn’t see this coming: The hellish partnership between Bentley and Breitling, in which two brands (that were already over-producing their core items to an increasingly indifferent audience) combined to flood the market with ridiculously-priced watches that didn’t do a good job of serving either brand’s mission, has finally found its natural level at JomaDeals.

I betcha they can’t even move the watches at 70% off retail. Four grand would get you an Omega Speedmaster or a Rolex Datejust, either of which will be worth far more than this tonneau-cased monstrosity when you go to sell it. It’s an odd thing that’s happening out there in mass-market-luxury land: there’s more money than ever, printed by the trillions and just given away to the doubleplusgood members of our financial/political junta, but that rising tide isn’t lifting all the boats. Instead, you get a sort of herd/flock situation where every single junior guy on Wall Street wants an LV Submariner or a Milgauss or a Panny or whatever the watch of the moment is.

The only way Breitling is going to move these watches is to do what they should have done in the first place: given them away to everybody who buys a Continental or Flying Spur, raising the price of the car three or four grand to cover the cost of making them. But here’s the good news: with prices of the early W12 Bentleys also falling into the 70% off zone, now’s the time to be a big baller on a budget, 2007 style. You can get the car and the watch for $45k out the door. And will anybody know the difference?

Shinola And The Perfect Enemy Of The Good

Talk about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Brother Bark, Danger Girl, Bozi, and I stepped out of the main hall at Cobo to find some lunch, escape the noise of the Detroit Auto Show for a moment, and give my left leg a moment’s worth of peace. When it’s cold outside, the titanium screws in my tibia contract at a different rate from the bone in which they’re set. Putting weight on the leg turns up the volume on that annoyance. I used to have a lot more metal in my body than I have now — when I was nineteen I had my right femur pin removed a bit early so I could try my hand at a Superclass BMX “career” — but I’m not quite as insensitive to pain as I used to be, either.

As I limped by the Shinola booth set up in the hallway, Bark and DG decided they needed to take a look at what the company had to offer. Forty-five minutes later, we had four watches for three people. (Bozi was out smoking a cigarette the whole time.)

My new Shinola 47mm Runwell Contrast Chrono is the most Chinese watch I’ve owned in a very long time. There’s a lot of agitation in the watch-fanatics community about Shinola, and the two most frequent criticisms have to do with the very high price (for a quartz fashion watch) and Shinola’s claim that this assemblage of Chinese case, Swiss movement, and Floridian strap is “Built In Detroit”.

To the first complaint, I have no answer other than to say a $750 Shinola with a $15 Ronda quartz movement is a much lesser sin than a $25,000 Hublot with an $150 ETA 2924. To the second, however, I have a detailed and heartfelt answer that, in my not-so-humble-opinion at least, has implications that extend far beyond the realm of hobby watches into everything from politics to morality.

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Nothing Collectible Is Collectible

It seemed like a tall order, and possibly an expensive one. There’s been a bit of coin collecting going on in the house lately, so for Christmas I had the idea of getting the US Mint Proof Sets from the years than Danger Girl and I were born. Since I’m older, I anticipated that my proof set would be harder to find, and more expensive when I did find it. I was wrong on both counts. eBay is absolutely engorged with US Mint proof sets from the past sixty or so years.

In the end, I paid about five bucks for my set and about six bucks for DGs. Had I been patient, I could have bought a package of 250+ proof sets, including all of the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, for about a hundred dollars. Making the individual value of a US Mint proof set somewhat less than the face value of the coins in the sets. You could make a couple bucks an hour buying proof sets in bulk and taking the painstakingly finished, utterly pristine, four-decade-old coins to the local bank.

A new 2016 Proof Set from the US Mint costs $31.95. It contains $5.91 in proof-minted currency. I own a set, because I like pretty coins, but I’ll explain to you why it probably won’t even be worth $5.91 in twenty years. Hint: it’s the same reason the $150 BMX bike stolen out of my garage in 1994 is now worth $2,500.

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