Made In The USA: Vyper Chair

Like everything else in the modern United States, hand and shop tools have been split into an upper class and a lower class. The upper class is the Made In USA stuff like Snap-On and SK; the lower class is Harbor Freight and the various Chinese tool brands you find in Lowe’s and AutoZone. We used to have a middle class, the USA-made Craftsman tools that kept the Sears brand alive a solid decade past its sell-by date, but as of late Craftsman has mostly decamped to the Chinese side of things. (They’re trying to come back, now that Trump The Great Satan has leveled the playing field with China a little bit, and I hope they succeed in this.)

Over the past thirty-five years I’ve made it a habit to buy the best tools I could afford, even when I didn’t have any money. That’s why I had (and still have!) Park spoke wrenches that cost eight bucks a pop when I was making two dollars an hour after taxes, and it’s why I have SK ratcheting box wrenches nowadays. One thing I never had was any kind of rolling shop stool, even though it would have improved my quality of life quite a bit over the past decade as my back has increasingly complained about leaning over to change wheels on cars and adjust derailleurs on bikes. This was partly due to the fact that I didn’t expect any $30 Harbor Freight stool to hold up for any length of time, but it was really a matter of snobbishness. How could I feel good about rolling a crooked Chinese stool back and forth between my Herman Miller benches and tables? Better to just pull out a Miller wire base table out and sit on it.

Doing that sucks, by the way.

So now I have something new: the USA-made, painstakingly-machined, no-expense-spared Vyper Chair, complete with custom embroidery. And it’s already proving to be indispensable, admittedly for a quite depressing reason.

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Guest Post: While We’re On a Renaming Kick, Let’s Get Rid of Wilson, Yale, and Stanford

Sengbe Pieh

The names of those American military bases memorializing Confederate generals, like Fort Bragg in North Carolina or Fort Hood in Texas, have become fodder for the culture war. Despite the fact that some were capable commanders (many of those, it should be noted, were graduates of the Union’s military academy at West Point), the simultaneous fact that they fought for a cause now thought odious is considered by many to be grounds for erasing their names from those installations. I can personally think of valid arguments on both sides of the issue.

When it comes to renaming things, particularly with a political motivation, I’m reminded of something an Indian fellow who worked for an automotive vendor told me during the big Detroit auto show. Continue Reading →

Messages From The Lizard People

Five months ago, a space of time which today seems almost paleontological, I found myself explaining the Lizard People to my boss, Mr. Larry Webster. I was driving Larry’s newly-acquired ’94 Mustang Cobra in some rather dicey weather, chatting with him about various personages in the automotive world, and I said something like, “Well, he’s one of the Lizard People.”

“The what?” So I had to break it down for him. Wikipedia will tell you that the Lizard People are part of a very serious conspiracy theory, but Wikipedia has SJW-policed itself into utter irrelevance lately; witness their entry for Boogaloo. Nobody (alright, almost nobody) thinks that interstellar reptiles have taken human form among our country’s leaders. Rather, the Lizard People theory is a hyperbolic way to express something which we all know to be true, namely: virtually everyone in our country’s “one percent” is at least a sociopath and possibly a psychopath.

They don’t think like we do — not even close. The majority of them were blessed with some haystack-needle combination of personal circumstance and professional luck. People who were born on third base, think they hit a triple, then manage to steal home because the catcher has a heart attack. To avoid facing the unpleasant (to them) fact of their lottery-winner existence, they eagerly consume (and produce) countless utterly generic diatribes on meritocratic-sounding skills like “leadership”, “vision”, “success”, and similar topics. Carly Fiorina, known in most circles as the woman who single-handedly destroyed Hewlett-Packard, has written three bestselling motivational books. Chew on that for a minute. This woman literally ran an American institution into the ground, causing tens of thousands of people to lose their jobs and destroying billions of dollars in shareholder value — and she thinks she’s a tremendous success. That’s psychopathic behavior.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about the kind of fellow who grinds through medical school, starts his own practice, and rewards himself with a McLaren Senna GTR at the age of fifty. I’m not talking about Steve Wozniak or even Steve Jobs. I’m not talking about Larry’s boss, McKeel Hagerty, who took a neighborhood insurance agency and built a billion-dollar company through meticulous attention to detail. I’m talking about all those people who earn six or seven figures in ill-defined, completely unproductive jobs. The marketing gurus, the “Silicon Valley wizards” who have never shipped a memorable product, pretty much every MD and above in the finance business (except, ahem, this one chick I know). The people who sit on eight corporate boards and nobody knows why. The CEOs who shipped jobs overseas to make a quarterly earnings call look good, the people at Boeing who managed to trash the world’s best brand in a matter of years. The Lizard People.

Real Lizard People are a lot easier to discern than their sci-fi counterparts. Witness, if you will, the above video.

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Sometimes A Great Notion, Sometimes Not

This 1973 Camaro, currently on eBay at 15,500 Buy It Now, is preying on my mind a bit. For what it is — a largely unadorned take on Sergio Pininfarina’s favorite American car. From 1970 to 2003 or thereabouts, the Camaro managed this utterly hilarious trick of being an utterly gorgeous and outrageous car which earned your contempt through mere ubiquitous familiarity. A 1973 Camaro… a 1982 Camaro… a 1994 Camaro… with a Ferrari badge and a production volume of 500 a year… can you imagine how people would go crazy over it? A few months ago, we had the Pegasus Firebird in Hagerty’s Traverse City home office and it was just different enough to make you see what you should have seen all along: the second-generation F-body was America’s 250GTO.

Mercifully free of the hockey-puck black plastic which came to define the interiors of the equally striking third-and-fourth-generation cars, this Camaro is gorgeous, exotic, and quite unusual with its rare opera windows. Yes, they are deservedly rare, perhaps, but with forty-five years’ worth of perspective I can appreciate them both aesthetically and functionally. I’ve driven a few of these cars and you need all the rear-quarter vision you can get.

As much as I love it for what it is, I also adore our opera-windowed ’73 for what it represents.

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A Bit Of Family History, Found

I was probably one of the last people in my city to join Facebook, approximately five years ago. I soon found there was a lot of what Hunter S. Thompson would have called fear and loathing on the site, but I refined my friends list and groups to focus primarily on actual people I knew, people I didn’t know but who were gearheads, Italian restaurants, and various and sundry Cadillac, Lincoln and Broughamesque car groups. As a result I avoid about 98.3% of the typical FB angst, and it has worked pretty well.

At any rate, sometimes things come out of left field. Early this year I was contacted by a lady in Arkansas, Lisa Harding Jepko. What she had to say was pretty interesting:

Hi, this sounds crazy, but as a hobby, I buy old pictures from auctions and estates. Then I try research the families in the pictures. I believe I have one of your great great grandfather…”

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Jakub Józef Orliński: “Vedro con mio diletto” from Il Giustino (Antonio Vivaldi)

There are times when I think that a music-business story is “too good to fact-check,” and this is one of them. Young counter-tenor Jakub Józef Orliński agreed to substitute for an ensemble that could not appear for what Orliński believed would be the radio-only live broadcast of an outdoor afternoon concert in the south of France. The New Yorker picks up the story (after mentioning that Orliński was, on the day of the concert, nursing a mild hangover):

Orliński put on baggy shorts and beat-up sneakers, and rolled up the sleeves of a crumpled tattersall shirt: this was radio, after all, and it was ninety degrees outside. Only when he and his pianist, Alphonse Cémin, who was in shorts and flip-flops, arrived at the recording venue—a courtyard with a small audience—did they learn that the performance was also to be streamed on Facebook Live. It was too late for Orliński to change clothes, and so he sang just as he was—unshaved, and dressed as if ready for a day of sleeping it off under the Provençal plane trees.

This is obviously a superb job of singing; the YouTube view count of 4.7 million views is something I find very heartening. That’s in part because counter-tenors are in a way like harpsichords. In both cases, at times there seems to be a parity between the numbers of people who can enjoy the sound, and those who feel compelled to flee from it. And in that regard, I would have preferred a Baroque continuo rather than a Steinway grand (Vivaldi’s opera dates from 1724), but the piano accompaniment is very sensitive. And one must keep in mind that Orliński was substituting on less than 24 hours’ notice. (I do crack up every time I see the “page turner” reach up and touch the iPad.) Also, for an outdoor concert, what a lovely recording job! More, after the jump.
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If I Am Not For Myself, Who Will Be For Me?

Hebrew MAGA מאגא Donald Trump Yarmulke Kippah Red Leather image 0

מאַכן אַמעריקע גרויס אביסל Machen America Grois Abissel

For the past three years some of my fellow Jews have been telling me that I’m not a very good Jew because I happened to vote for the presidential candidate of a major American political party. Putting aside the possible naivete in my beliefs that we live in a good country filled with mostly decent people, regardless of their political ideologies, and that it’s virtually impossible for a truly monstrous person to get through the years-long vetting process of getting nominated, let alone elected, I’m a bit perplexed. The last time I looked, not one of the 613 commandments (yeah, there are way more than the big ten) that God gave the Jews in the Torah obligates me to vote for a particular person or party.

Even more perplexing is the fact that the Jews telling me that I’m not a good Jew hold mutually contradicting beliefs about Jewish identity and for the most part are nearly complete ignoramuses about Judaism, Jewish culture and Jewish history.
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Just A Quick Note…

As I type this, some amazing food is cooking in my folks’ kitchen, and in just a bit it will be time for a cocktail. The temperature is remarkably nice for northwest Illinois on this Christmas afternoon. I washed the car in the driveway yesterday, something that has never happened before on Christmas Eve.

Wishing all the readers and contributors a very Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, or Wednesday afternoon, as the case may be. And thanks to Jack, for indulging my yakking about old land yachts, right here on RG. Cheers!

Why Is Nobody Making the Best Toaster Ever Made?

Being a harmonica enthusiast isn’t the only thing I have in common with Elwood Blues. I also love me some toasted bread, though I actually prefer egg challah with sweet butter and strawberry preserves, to dry, white toast. To make toast these days, most folks either use a toaster oven, which to me seems like overkill for just a couple of slices, or a pop-up electric toaster. While both of those will char bread quite adequately, I prefer to use the best bread toaster ever made, a Sunbeam Radiant Control toaster, in my case a model T-35, made sometime between 1958 and 1967, close to my own vintage.

While America was busy making rockets and inventing solid state integrated circuits to put men on the moon, an appliance company was using basic physics and mechanics to make an automatic toaster the likes of which has never been improved upon. Continue Reading →