Weekly Roundup: 1994’s Gift That Will Never Stop Giving Edition

In 1985, this country encountered something new: a trade deficit with China. It was just six million dollars. In 1994, President Bill Clinton ignored criticism from his own party to renew China’s Most Favored Nation trade status, citing the eight billion dollars’ worth of export business this country did with China. He tactfully failed to mention the thirty-nine billion dollars’ worth of goods we imported, for a net deficit of thirty billion dollars. And then we were off to the races, as government policies under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations made it a no-brainer for American companies to outsource their manufacturing and technical operations overseas. That deficit doubled, then doubled again, within the first ten years after Clinton’s decision. It peaked in 2018 at a staggering $418 billion before dropping to $345 billion in 2019. We are currently on track for a 2020 trade deficit of $279 billion, the lowest figure since 2009.

Last year, I tried like hell to build a “dirt jumper” bike without Chinese parts. I spent nearly five thousand dollars sourcing a frame from Ann Arbor, rims from Grand Rapids, titanium crank components from Florida, brakes from Japan. In a few cases, notably tires and tubes, I had no choice other than Taiwanese-sourced items. Taiwan is Chinese but it’s not Chinese, I suppose. The front fork, made by Fox, was largely Taiwanese thanks to the company’s recent decision to move all production to that island. Having painstakingly researched my way out of mainland China, I then built the bike… only to see “Made In China” on a wheel bearing.

The American Giant hooded sweatshirt, pictured above in the Black Camo limited edition I was too slow to buy in 2018, is entirely sourced in the United States. Every single part. But it’s a sweatshirt. If you get any more complex than that, you will find that Chinese manufacturing, like the COVID-19 virus, is impossible to completely avoid. Bicycles are not complex machines by any modern standard, but you can’t build one without buying from China. This should have worried all of us, but with the exception of yahoos like your humble author it did not. Our media told us to accept globalization as an inevitable thing, even as they told us we could help the climate of the entire planet by buying “sustainable” clothing that just happened to be made in China.

The cracks in this Tower of Babel are starting to show. Ironically, bicycles are leading the way.

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Weekly Roundup: It’s Child Porn, But It’s Worse Than That Edition

Question for the audience: How many of you can remember any salient plot points of the film Porky’s other than the infamous shower scene? I have to confess that I could not, in much the same way that Fast Times At Ridgemont High exists in my memory as “Jennifer Jason Leigh lying down and Phoebe Cates standing up”. Those movies were fairly simple devices: at a time when female nudity was fairly difficult to come by for teenaged boys, they provided a generous amount of it, wrapped in enough comedy to make the consumption of the film respectable. My high school classmates would have had a very low opinion of anyone who went to a peep show or an adult movie booth, but Porky’s was just on this side of being, as the kids say now, “normalized”. You could go see the movie with friends and not feel like you’d just watched a porno together.

Judging from both the critical and public reception to the African-French child-sex film Cuties, available on Netflix right next to all the new documentaries from groundbreaking producers Barack and Michelle Obama, one might think that it’s “Porky’s for perverts” or something like that: a heartwarming, thoughtful dramedy that just happens to feature extended scenes of children mimicking sexual acts, behaving provocatively, and actively soliciting sexual attention from 18-year-olds. All the usual suspects — the New Yorker, the Washington Post — just adore the movie, and recommend that everyone should see it as soon as possible. Anybody who objects to the sexual portrayal of eleven-year-olds is just a stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy, essentially identical to the old ladies who didn’t want Porky’s shown at your Main Street USA duplex. The rather hilarious phrase “Stream the child porn, bigot!” has appeared all over Twitter this week as a pithy encapsulation of this viewpoint.

Were Cuties nothing but a glossy wrapper for kiddie pornography, it would be utterly repugnant and unworthy of distribution anywhere in the world — but, as we will see in a moment, it is much worse than that.

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Weekly Roundup: The Skater, The Father, And The Hydroxychloroquine Effect Edition

There were five of them. Five children, between the ages of nine and eleven. The court document uses bland phrasing that nonetheless sickens you as you read it. “(REDACTED) was anally penetrated by the Defendant on March 27, 2002, as was his twin.” To prevent the children from telling on him, to increase his power over children he had repeatedly sodomized, “the Defendant” would burn them. The Defendant’s own mother knew the Defendant was broken in some way; she turfed him out as soon as he turned eighteen. The Defendant used the sympathy of others in the community to get access to their children. Five of them, between the ages of nine and eleven. He went to prison for a while. He was released. He met a woman and impregnated her. Something happened — nobody appears to know — and he fled the state away from the woman and child, jumping bail for existing domestic abuse and battery charges on the way out.

The Defendant had an associate. This associate was designated a repeat domestic abuser by his local court. Several times he beat his female partner to the point that the police got involved. He strangled her. He suffocated her. He used weapons against her as well as his fists. At one point, this associate was convicted of false imprisonment, which doesn’t make any sense to the average reader in but in court-speak means, “the victim tried to leave but he kept her in the house so he could keep beating her”. He was given mild conditions of probation — like stay away from that woman — but he couldn’t follow those conditions, so he was locked up several times as a consequence.

I don’t think anyone deserves to be described or defined in terms of the worst thing they ever did. Nor do I think that people are unable to change for the better. That being said, both of these people had long-demonstrated histories of sexual violence towards children and/or women. They weren’t rookies. They weren’t making tragic, but singular, mistakes. They had established patterns of behavior. Calling them “abusers” or “sex criminals” would be like calling your humble author “ugly” — unkind, but adequately supported by the evidence. The media of this country repeatedly referred to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a “rapist” and “predator” based on much less evidence and no admission of guilt. So what could these two people, the man who raped nine-year-olds and the man who trapped a woman in a house so he could suffocate her, do to be described, glowingly, as a father, and a skater?

You already know, of course. It’s The Hydoxychroloquine Effect.

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Weekly Roundup: Last To First In Thirty Seconds Edition

This was the start of Sunday morning’s race. I went from last place at the start to first by the second corner. First in class, I should mention. This was a multi-class race and I was in Super Touring 6, the slowest of the NASA Touring classes. I didn’t hold the position; after catching the slide at the end of the video I had to settle for 2nd place past the start/finish flag at the end of Lap One. And I ended up getting disqualified because the race officials felt I was too aggressive during a mid-race restart after a double yellow flag. Naturally, I disagree. If you’re not here to race, don’t bring your race car to the race track, where racing is known to happen.

My car, the 1994 Plymouth Neon I built in 2008 with a team of friends, isn’t faster than the other cars. In fact, it’s slower than every car you see in this video. The difference is that I have faith in myself and I never lift off the throttle. I believe I can see things that other racers cannot. It is the gift God gave me in exchange for all my other failings as a human being.

If only I could share with all of you the absolute confidence I have when I see that green flag wave. If only I could give that to every one of my friends and readers, gift-wrapped and wax-sealed against the hard or painful day when such a feeling might make the difference between getting through and giving up. If only I could pass it down to my son, knowing that he will make better and kinder use of it than I ever could. If only I could capture the moment and hold it for myself, for all the times I feel overwhelmed and overmatched by life. The great thing about racing is that it presents simple problems and accepts simple answers. That, in and of itself, is a gift worth experiencing, enjoying, and sharing.

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Weekly Roundup: Fully Qualified Edition

Forty-seven months ago I put my son in a kart for the first time. He had a good season in the 50cc “kid kart” then a horrifying half year where I tried to make an old 80cc “junior sportsman” Birel work using a bicycle mechanic’s set of skills. By then he’d expressed a desire to race bikes anyway so we went on two wheels and with the occasional indoor-rental exception we didn’t look back.

Having made plans to race a kart myself a few times this year, I figured I would give John another chance, this time in the Margay Ignite K2 spec series. We did a short test in Florida this winter that went very well but didn’t give us a chance to see how he would do in an actual race. The next step was a race in May but that was canceled. Or, I should say, it was moved to this past weekend. So we packed up and headed to St. Louis for the second time in three weeks. After watching a few videos, John was less than sanguine about his chances. “I’d like to not finish last,” he said, “but I probably will.”

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Weekly Roundup: Passover Edition

I don’t celebrate Christmas and my own birthday is more of a sorrowful occasional than a cheerful one but you can bet I will turn out for National Filet Day, which is easily the most legitimate holiday in post-collapse America. There’s a new Ruth’s Chris here in Columbus. It’s not nearly as good as the old one for several reasons, one of them being its relocation from a quiet and anonymous suburban mall outlot to a cramped corner facing the downtown convention center. This means I can either let the valets play Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with my car or I can park it somewhere on the street and cross my fingers. That’s what I did yesterday. On the way to the restaurant, I passed this mini-mural. What does it mean?

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Weekly Roundup: Why Can’t You Just Do It Right Edition

“Give you a hundred bucks if you can name the artist and the tune — or the artist and the album.” My dinner companion, Hagerty Drivers Club Magazine impresario Joe DeMatio, almost got it, but not quite. We were at Weber’s Inn, the old-standard restaurant in Ann Arbor that prior to the recent unpleasantness was known for featuring live music of some sort six nights a week. Now they’re spinning records instead of lighting up the bandstand, which is better than nothing. Joe knew it was a Miles Davis tune, but he didn’t know that it was “I Could Write A Book” from Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. A product of two sessions at Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio, Relaxin’ and its three companion albums have become an indispensable part of the American jazz landscape over the past sixty years.

In the years to come, Miles would devote considerable time to using the studio as an instrument in and of itself, as seen in Bitches Brew — but these eight sides were quick and dirty efforts meant to fulfill his obligations to his old label (Prestige) so he could start working with his new label (Columbia, where he would record Kind Of Blue). Many of the tunes are first takes; there is no evidence for any of them being the product of more than three attempts. In the song above, “If I Were A Bell,” you can put on your headphones and hear John Coltrane rushing up to the microphone for his solo, realizing a bit too late that he was too far away for the sound he and the producer wanted. If that happened while my son and I were recording a fifty-nine-second song snippet for Instagram, we’d start over — but Miles went ahead and committed that take to vinyl, presumably so he could get the other three dozen tunes on his list done without having to stick around for a third day.

Relaxin’ isn’t perfect. Given the conditions — four men crowded into a home studio, playing single-take music into a single microphone, without a single Auto-Tune workstation in sight — it would be impossible for that to be the case. Yet it’s right. It’s just done right. All of the musicians turned in competent performances. Rudy Van Gelder recorded it with his usual fidelity and attention to detail. So even if you don’t like all the tunes, you cannot say that any of them represents a catastrophe along the lines of Courtney Love’s individual guitar and vocal mixes. There is a minimum standard of talent, due care, and professionalism being met here. This is an idea that has been very much on my mind as of late, for reasons I’ll explain.

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Weekly Roundup: The Weighting Is The Hardest Part

The USAC banner was flying over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jim Cornelison sang “Back Home Again In Indiana”. The winner chugged milk and took home a brick. But this wasn’t the Indy 500 — it was the USAC “Battle At The Brickyard”, and your humble author was in the pack that rushed past the sportcoat-clad starter in search of a win at America’s most venerable racetrack.

It should be noted that this was my first kart race. Like, first kart race ever. I had an outstanding ride — a brand-new Ignite K3, prepared by Margay and maintained on-site by a dedicated mechanic. I had two great teammates — Larry Webster and Hagerty’s only former WKA competitor, young photographer and autowriter Cameron Neveu. Most of all, I had the ironclad and completely ignorant belief that I could parachute in and race head-to-head with people who weren’t just famous as kart racers but well-known in other motorsports as well, like multiple SCCA Runoffs and pro series winner Keith Scharf.

Naturally, I won it all. Okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t even finish in the top half. In the fourteen-lap main event I took a 23rd place out of 33 non-disqualified karts in the final, ahead of just four other karts that were still running at the end of the thing. Not exactly Days Of Thunder material here, boys.

Now here’s the thing. I didn’t get passed in corners. I defended my positions pretty well. After lap one of the final, I was somewhere between 10th and 15th place, having started in 29th. I even made a couple serious and successful moves on highly experienced competitors, some of whom took podium positions in the various heats and pre-finals. Why’d I get stomped so bad? Let me, ahem, push myself away from the buffet table and explain.

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Weekly Roundup: Zen And The Art Of Bicycle Maintenance Edition

My son and I are driving across the country right now, hitting every skate park, pump track, and downhill MTB facility we can find along the way. There have been some really neat times — watching him hit big jumps at Frisco despite the 9,100-foot elevation and lack of familiarity with the terrain, a couple of warp-speed runs at Winter Park where the adults ahead of him were like terrified deer in the headlights of a Freightliner — and there have been some bad times, like the flat tire I got two miles away from the nearest lift and the crash he had today that initially looked like a broken wrist but is probably just a seriously bruised forearm muscle.

When I think how close I came to never being a father, I get this nauseated chill all the way through my body, the same way I did back in 1993 when I finished a 135-mph freeway blast on my 600 Ninja, came to a stop to get a drink, and realized there was a trail of oil from the head gasket to the middle of the rear tire. Some of it is admittedly the narcissistic high of seeing someone who is very nearly a perfect duplicate of my eleven-year-old self demonstrate mastery of so many different things, from fencing left-handed with an epee to driving a 206cc kart one-handed through a fast corner. The rest of it, however, is just the joy that comes from following (some of) God’s plan in this life and having a family, albeit an ad hoc one. I know that many of my readers are young men who are struggling with a modern society that wants them to be “dog dads” in miserable childless marriages, a society that venerates the empty joys of overpriced food and aimless travel over the true happiness of providing for a real family and continuing the traditions handed down to them by their parents or grandparents.

If I could return to my twenty-first birthday and start again, I’d focus on having the largest family I could support and on showing that family all the love and affection I could possibly express. I believe my brother feels the same way. Between the two of us, we’ve sampled most of the pleasure the prince of this world has to offer, from bespoke tailoring and sub-eight-minute laps of the ‘Ring to playing sold-out shows across Europe and indulging in the kind of antics that are normally prefaced by “Dear Penthouse Letters, I never thought it could happen to me but…” None of that stuff truly lasts.

I know the temptation for my young readers is to “sit poolside”, to disconnect from their responsibilities and just enjoy these final days of the American experiment. I’m asking you to repudiate that temptation. You won’t be a perfect father. God knows I’m not — today I found myself yelling at my son because he was slow to get up after falling six feet onto rocky ground face-first. The job does not require perfection. It requires effort, and involvement. You can do it. Even if your own father didn’t measure up. That doesn’t have to define who you are, or what you accomplish. I believe you can transcend all of that. You won’t make the same mistakes your father made. You can make entirely different ones. Trust me on this.

Here’s something I’ve never written before, but it’s true: Click the jump to find out how you can win a prize.

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