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Post Chilean, US and UK Customs
Created by John Eipper on 01/12/13 5:07 AM

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Chilean, US and UK Customs (Carmen Negrin, France, 01/12/13 5:07 am)

In response to Henry Levin's experience at Chilean customs (11 January), try entering the US with an apple or a pata negra! It's no better. The US and the British have been the most strict, and this has been the case since as far as I can remember.

JE comments: I've rarely had my luggage searched when returning to the US, but I'm sure non-citizens get more severe treatment. In fact, I've enjoyed a ham or two that flew here in somebody's luggage...of course I'll name no names!

The strictest aduana I've experienced was Australia, followed by Chile and Brazil.  Colombia is extremely vigilant about what you put on a departing plane, but doesn't seem to care what you bring in.

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  • US Customs: "Have You Been on a Farm?" (John Heelan, UK 01/12/13 6:09 AM)
    Carmen Negrin wrote on 12 January: "...try entering the US with an apple or a pata negra! It's no better [than in Chile]. The US and the British have been the most strict, and this has been the case since as far as I can remember."

    Thanks to the introduction of the EU Common Agriculture Policy, I had to supplement my farming income by doing professional work in Europe and the US. On my many trips to the US at that time, I religiously filled out the Immigration form and ticked the box marked whether I had been on a farm recently. I usually had to hang around in the Customs area for an hour or so until I was interviewed by an official.

    The conversation usually went like this: Q: "Have you been on a farm recently?" A: "Yes this morning." Q: "Have you been near livestock of any kind recently?" A: "Yes, I did the morning milking before travelling." Q: "Is your footwear contaminated with any excrement?" A: "No." Q: Have you been near any animals with communicable diseases?" A: "No, all our animals and other livestock are disease-free." Q: "Will you be visiting any livestock in the US?" A: "Only those who work in computer rooms." Having explained the purpose of my visit (I had a permanent entry visa), the last usually raised a smile.

    I have never been interviewed on such matters on the way back into the UK. However, I agree with JE about Australia--it is the only time I have been sprayed with insecticide on arrival!

    JE comments: I was sprayed, too, during my one visit to Australia in 1991. Perhaps Martin Storey can tell us if they still do this. I'm doubtful the gassing actually kills pests, but it certainly makes one worry about the risks to lungs and liver.

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    • Getting Sprayed in Karachi, 1961 (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/12/13 3:43 PM)
      I had an experience that John Heelan's posting of 12 January brings to mind. In 1961, when I was an exchange pilot flying with the RAF, we ferried six Javelin 9 aircraft out to 64 Squadron in Singapore, as they were reequipping with Javelins. It took 17 legs between Cambridge, England, and RAF Tengah, Singapore, as we had no air-to-air refueling capability at this time, so we only had 600-mile legs, plus it was during monsoon season.

      On the leg from an island in the Indian Ocean to Karachi, we were told on landing to go to where they had directed us to park, shut down the aircraft but do not open the canopy until a customs official gives us the OK. When the customs official arrived at the aircraft, he jumped up on the aircraft wearing an official officer's cap, a short sleeve white shirt with a badge and a pair of blue slacks. He was barefoot.

      He then motioned me to open the canopy. As soon as I did he reached in with his bug spray repellant and squirted the forward windscreen area, the area where the rudders are between my legs, all up and down my flight suit, the area between the front and back cockpit and then did the same to my radar observer in the back seat. When I initially opened the canopy, it smelled like we were in a sewer area. We were then given clearance to get out of our aircraft and proceed to Base Ops where we went through Customs which was painless, but no one was wearing any shoes and the room looked like it needed a real scrubbing!

      We spent the night there and enjoyed the Pakistanis and the sights of the city. Had a great curry dinner and then we took off the next morning for New Delhi. When we arrived to Singapore, we had lost two Javelins of the six we started out with and one pilot. Truly a marvelous adventure traveling that through that part of the world, but it was marred by the fact we lost a pilot.

      JE comments:  One pilot and two planes lost?  That's a very sad outcome.  If I may ask Michael Sullivan the details, what happened?  Were the planes lost in the monsoon?

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      • Tragedy over the Ganges Delta, 1961 (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/14/13 1:07 AM)

        In response to JE's follow-up questions to my post of 12 January, the monsoon had nothing to do with the two aircraft losses, though we were in the clouds the entire time from Karachi to Singapore.

        Both accidents were caused by leaking AVPIN fluid that the aircraft uses to start its engines. The leaks ended up spilling into the engine bays, detonating and then causing fires which caused explosions. Luckily the first aircraft we lost happened on start up at Malta, and the pilot and radar observer were able to exit the aircraft before it burned to the ground.

        Unfortunately we were over the Ganges Delta about 90 miles east of Calcutta flying to Rangoon when the lead aircraft caught fire and exploded. We were a five-plane formation then and flying close together at 35,000 ft. due to the monsoon clouds. We saw the flash and the lead aircraft rapidly lost altitude, and we thought we saw at least one ejection prior to losing them due to poor visibility in the clouds.

        We all returned to Calcutta with our four remaining Javelins. There a search and rescue was launched, and we boarded a Hastings aircraft which carried our en route maintenance team to try and locate the crash site. We located where the aircraft had crashed due to scorch marks, but the jungle and foliage was so thick it appeared the trees where it had crashed had sprung back up again. We returned to Calcutta with no luck in finding the aircrew.

        We left the next day in our four remaining Javelins for Singapore via Rangoon, Bangkok and Penang (Malaya).

        We arrived two days later at RAF Tengah with our four jets. We had another huge scare going into Penang, as the field started going zero/zero due to a huge thunderstorm approaching and I was No. 4 and the last aircraft to land. I had to stop my aircraft on the runway after landing, as I couldn't see 10 yards in front of me and wait for the visibility to improve about 15 minutes later before exiting the runway and parking my jet. If I had been 30 seconds later I couldn't have landed; I was out of gas so I would have had to eject!

        To try and eliminate problems like this we had two B-57 Canberras escort us due to weather from the monsoon from Karachi to Singapore. One would take off and go to our destination and stay in the landing pattern. The other B-57 would go half way, and as we approached the "go, no go" line if we had to turn back to our take-off point, the B-57 with us would radio us a weather report from the B-57 in the pattern at our destination, and this determined whether we'd continue on. We only had to turn back once in those seven legs.

        It took the British Jungle Rescue team out of Singapore three days to find the aircrew that had ejected over the Ganges Delta. Unfortunately, the pilot was dead and found hanging in a tree with a broken neck that he broke on ejection. He wasn't an operational squadron Javelin fighter pilot and was from the Ferry Command. His job was to lead flights from England to the Far East. He could fly many different models but didn't know much about any of them. The troopers said he never put on his leg restrainer straps, which pull your lower legs back in tight to the ejection seat upon ejection so you don't bang them on the instrument panel or front windscreen going up the rail. What caused his death was that he manually separated from the Martin-Baker ejection seat, which is catastrophic if you mix up the three steps which he did. You'd normally never manually separate, as the seat functions in all areas automatically.

        The only time you'd manually separate is if you had a malfunction, so what we believe what happened to the pilot was he ejected around 35,000 ft. in the clouds and manually separated because of problems he thought existed but didn't.

        What happens after ejection is a small 5 ft. chute comes out of the top of the ejection seat to stabilize the seat from tumbling into a normal sitting position while descending. The main parachute opens at 12,000 ft., plus or minus 2,000 ft., and the opening shock separates the seat from the pilot which is attached by sticker clips. Then the pilot descends to the ground via a normal parachute descent.

        If you mix up any of those three steps, the main parachute lines will come out and wrap around the pilot's neck and the opening shock will break his neck. I can understand why he manually separated, as he was in the clouds, couldn't see his radar observer and had no idea how to judge height. The wait for the main chute to open must have seemed like an eternity! He probably sat in the seat for a minute or so and the main chute hadn't opened so he thought it had failed and so now he executes manual separation but mixes up the correct steps. A real shame, as it didn't need to happen, just like so many aircraft accidents and loss of life could have been prevented.

        The good news is we got the radar observer back, as the Jungle Rescue Team found him sitting on the roots of a tree out of the water in a most hostile, dangerous swamp area. He hadn't had time to stow his navigation plotting board, as the pilot had initiated the ejection so he had injured his knees badly hitting the board on ejection but recovered very nicely in a few months. He has written a great survival story for his three-day ordeal, and most experts says this is the worst possible place to have to survive because of the elements, isolation with no civilization around, tigers and reptiles!

        Bottom line is aviators don't get flight pay because they're young, handsome and dashing...It's because it's a dangerous line of work. But we love it and never think of the perils because it can't happen to me!

        JE comments: Michael Sullivan's tales from his fighter-pilot days underscore the horrendous dangers faced by these knights of the skies, even in peacetime. I'm sure all WAISworld joins me in thanking Michael for sharing this sad but captivating experience.

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        • A Ride in a Russian L-39 (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/15/13 6:31 AM)

          What a fascinating story from Michael Sullivan (14 January).

          I flew as a passenger in an L39 jet trainer of the Russian Air Force, some years ago. It was an incredible experience. The pilot, taking advantage of the fact that as a sailor I do not suffer from any kind of motion sickness, took the craft through all kinds of aerobatic maneuvers like loops, Immelmann maneuvers, rolls, and best of all, a maneuver the name of which I don't know, where we flew in a shallow dive up to the Do Not Exceed speed of the airframe, then pointed the nose straight upwards, flying up vertically like a rocket, engine at full throttle, until all the airspeed gradually bled off, at which point we stalled, and spun out, falling like a falling leaf. It was supposed to be a lesson in recovery from a spin. Just as we lost the last of our airspeed, we popped up out of the clouds, still in a completely vertical attitude. An unforgettable experience. I surely envy Mike for having had a career which allowed him to be in and around jet aircraft his whole life.

          Before being allowed to go up, I was made to spend most of a day learning how to use the ejection seat--this is why Mike's post reminded me of this experience. I had no idea that they are so dangerous. On this particular aircraft, if you fail to hold your head firmly against the headrest of the seat when it goes off, you would be decapitated. Nice! They had a training rig--a dummy ejection seat on a spring--to demonstrate the many ways you can be killed or maimed by using the ejection seat improperly.

          JE comments:  Wow.  I don't think Prof. Hilton would have approved (he once cautioned me against buying a motorcycle), but this joy ride sounds like a great deal of fun.  Want your own L-39?  Here's a sharp 1984 model in Soviet livery, priced to sell at $185,900:


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          • A Ride in a Russian L-39 (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/15/13 2:33 PM)

            I have two friends that own L-39s. One not only owns an L-39 but also owns a MiG 21 and a MiG 23. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware and was a former USAF F-102 pilot. He has a Harvard MBA and has made a lot of money working with Fanny Mae.

            The other is Bob Lutz, a former Marine pilot and peer of mine as we went through Flight School together, who is heavily involved in the auto industry and is the former Vice Chairman, General Motors Corporation. I believe he had to crash land his L-39 a few years ago when the landing gear wouldn't extend.

            I was surprised to learn that there were so many foreign military prop and jet aircraft owners in the US. You must be able to afford about a 1,000 gallons of fuel per hour in a high-performance jet fighter, and then to be able to purchase replacement parts. Many of these jets are out of production, so you have to try and locate parts from all over the world or have the capability to make them. Takes a huge bank account!

            JE comments:  At around $6 per gallon of jet fuel, L-39s are not a hobby for the faint of wallet!  I calculate $100 per minute of flight time.

            Bob Lutz is one of my all-time heroes of the auto industry.  I'd be honored to meet him someday.

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    • Australian Customs and Quarantine (Martin Storey, Australia 01/22/13 4:59 AM)

      Belated Season's Greetings to WAISdom!

      Apologies for the delayed response to JE's question of 12 January. It's busy for me right now after returning from a month in Europe.

      About Australian "quarantine" (that's what it is called, even though the word is generally not accurate in this context):

      The quarantine rules are still in place, not just between Australia and overseas, but also between states. When flying into Australia, every passenger has to fill in a form which is quite clear about what must be declared, and if anything seems to be in a grey area, it's "declare or beware." Once you know the rules, it's normally easy to stay within them and not have anything confiscated, but that certainly means that I cannot bring in cheese, fruit, etc. I also want to say that the customs and quarantine people are almost invariably remarkably courteous and even friendly. Quarantine rules change, and one needs to be proactive to be kept aware of these changes. For instance, it used to be that until recently (September 2012), one could not bring in tins of French pâté because pâté usually contains unspecific quantities of egg, something that was forbidden. For the past few months, products containing egg are allowed even if the quantity is not specified, as long as the product does not need to be kept refrigerated...not something I would have guessed. Of course there is a reason for quarantine, and it is a good one: the agriculture and the ecology of Australia are fragile and vulnerable to the introduction of foreign life forms. Cane toads are a well-known example, but there are many, many other plants and animals that have been introduced one way or another and have become pests or worse.

      Spraying: I have never been sprayed individually, but I am frequently in airplanes which are sprayed before landing, meaning that stewards walk through the alleys with one or two spray bombs and empty them. Passengers are warned, and the mist is neither strong nor unpleasant, in fact it's barely detectable. Having lived in Los Angeles, in Borneo during the great fires of 1997-98, and having traveled to cities like Beijing (an a propos example), I am not concerned about exposure to the airplane spray, although like JE, I have my doubts about its efficacy. It doesn't happen in every flight coming into Australia, and it happens in other flights elsewhere too.

      As a "frequent flyer" internationally, I have lots of stories about flying, some of which are quite hairy. Don't get me started.

      At the time of the bird flu, just a few years ago, I flew into Beijing and every passenger had to stay in their seat while custom officer went around and shone a laser pointer-like tool to their forehead, presumably to detect fever. It felt like a "Big Brother" moment.

      JE comments: Best New Year's greetings to Martin Storey. I'm about ready to board an international flight myself, but apart from the shock of the 60-degree temperature difference, I trust it will be painless.

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  • A US Customs Anecdote (Istvan Simon, USA 01/13/13 3:39 AM)
    Regarding apples and so on, I have a story to share with Carmen Negrín (12 January). In 1975 I traveled all over Europe in a sports car I bought in England, a Triumph Spitfire. On returning to the USA I shipped the car back to San Francisco from Antwerp, and then flew home.

    Many weeks later the car arrived in San Francisco, and I was asked to go through customs to pay a small duty. But when I wanted to pick up the car, I was told that the car needed to be fumigated with high temperature steam. I was astonished.

    But I was wrong. Soon a Department of Agriculture officer showed up. I asked him why my car needed to be fumigated. He said that it was because there was some mud on it.

    Indeed, on my way to Antwerp I had to stop on the road for a call of nature, and so I got Belgian mud on my car. I asked him why a little mud on the car made them require that my car be fumigated. He answered that there was a fungus which is endemic in Europe, which destroys potatoes, but which the United States does not have, and they were trying to keep it that way.

    I happily had my car fumigated for a fee of $11 at the time, and gained a lot of respect for the Department of Agriculture of the United States.

    JE comments: Here's a Flanders Fields story with a twist! Istvan: how long did you keep the Spitfire? I always lusted after this car as a teenager, although when I was finally able to afford something sporty, I opted for the reliability of a Mazda MX-5 Miata (still have it).

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    • Ronald Hilton Rides in a Spitfire (David Pike, France 01/13/13 1:03 PM)
      Anything to get away from the latest stunning WAISer burst of "Now you just take note of what I have to say about this" (re:  Abraham Lincoln), I take up the matter of Triumph Spitfires and our Editor's teenage yearning to have one. (See Istvan Simon, 13 January.)

      I bought mine in London in 1964, added some features (it was the Bond age), flew it in France for two years, then shipped it to San Francisco, eventually selling it, perhaps to Istvan Simon. I remember giving Ronald Hilton a lift in it one day. Who at Bolivar House can forget his box-like white Ford, which he parked (and only he could park) behind Bolivar House? Whenever it broke down, he liked to plod (though he was once a long-distance runner) up the hill to his home on Santa Ynez Street, but on one occasion in 1968 he asked me for a ride. Imagine Ronald Hilton clambering into the passenger seat of a Spitfire. His comment to me: How can a grown man ride in a car like this?

      A question about Professor Hilton's home, the unique Hesperides.  David (Woodley) Packard told me he always wanted to buy it, for its classical decor, but after Mary's death it could go only to a member of the Stanford Faculty. So who lives there now?

      JE comments: It seems Prof. H's penchant for practicality outweighed his British pride! Regarding the Heperides, Phyllis Gardner, who lives across the street, told me a few years ago that it had been sold and extensively renovated. I don't know who the new owners are. Phyllis: what's the latest on WAISworld''s most famous house?

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      • Ronald Hilton Rides in a Spitfire (Henry Levin, USA 01/14/13 1:33 AM)

        I am surprised that in the sentimental remembrances of Spitfires and
        other Triumphs and also the classic MGs, there is no discussion of
        their lack of reliability. Being brought up in the 1950s, I had
        many friends who either sought or bought these cars. They were
        relatively cheap and gave the illusion of speed because they were
        close to the road. The machinery inside was attractive, and the
        sounds appealing. But, they were in the shop as often as Fiats
        (Fix it Again Tony), and the parts were expensive and hard to get with
        long waiting periods. Was all of this only a failure of my long-term
        memory, or was that the reality?

        JE comments: Henry Levin's memory is spot-on; the British sports cars of the 1950s through '70s were notoriously unreliable. In fact, I did mention yesterday that I picked a Mazda Miata over anything British because I wanted to avoid the "Fix it Again, Trevor" syndrome.

        A friend's father worked as a Jaguar mechanic in Manhattan during the 1960s, and had many famous clients.  Once a customer offered him a $100 bonus if he could get all the Jag's electrical accessories working at the same time.  He was never able to collect the money.  (Speaking of Jaguars, Manhattan and the 1960s, there is a telling episode in the period drama Mad Men, where Lane Pryce attempts to commit suicide by running his E-Type inside a garage.  No "luck":  he cannot get the car started.)

        Cameron Sawyer has sent a note on his brief, frustrating experience as a Spitfire owner. Stay tuned.

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        • "Fix it Again, Trevor"? With British Cars, Fix it Yourself (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/17/13 7:52 AM)
          "Fix it Again Trevor"? (See JE's comment to Henry Levin's post of 14 January.) No, not with a 1950s English car. You had to fix it yourself. Relying on a 1950s English vehicle for transportation without a comprehensive kit of tools and spares and decent mechanical knowledge was a fairly futile activity. Tinkering with them on the weekends was a sacred ritual, part even of the fun of driving, as we understood it in those days.

          I remember after a year of my first German car--a BMW 2002, in the 1970s--thinking, my God, this car has not left my stranded on the side of the road one single time so far! It was a revelation. I simply hadn't known that there were cars which run nearly all the time.

          After all these years, I am again behind the wheel of an English car--a Range Rover. Its reliability, I am sorry to say, is similar to that of 1950s MGs. How they managed that in the modern age, I don't know. But it manages to leave me stranded, immobilized, at least once or twice a year. And if the MGs could be fixed with baling wire and a copper hammer, the Range Rover, inevitably, costs many thousands every time something happens to its electronic or hydropneumatical systems of fantastic, Baroque complexity.

          The Range Rover, by the way, is much worse than Russian cars of my experience. I drove a Russian Volga for two years, and although it had various drawbacks as a car, it never left me stranded even once, and in fact hardly ever broke down at all. All the electrical gear worked, and it always started, even in -30 degree frosts. The only trouble I ever had with it was a series of failed electronic sensors for the home-grown electronic fuel injection system (the Russians were too proud to simply buy the systems from Bosch, as they should have), none of which were immobilizing events.

          JE comments: "Fiat lux"/"Let there be light": God, the adage goes, did not drive a British car with Lucas electrics. 

          Or how about this one?  Lucas in the 1970s decided to diversify its product line by building a vacuum cleaner:  it became their only product which did not suck.  Here are some more:


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          • Memories of My MG (Robert McCabe, France 01/17/13 10:10 AM)
            To Cameron Sawyer's post of 17 January, I cannot resist adding the story of my first MG TF, which I bought in Germany in the mid-1950s. It was often reliable and when it was sulking, the German mechanics in Frankfurt fixed it superbly.

            When I crashed it in Tirol, I bought a superb little Fiat 600. One flaw: its water pump, which failed with, errrr, piston-like regularity.

            So I traded it in part payment for a superb Mercedes 220A cabriolet (three years old), which never failed me: when it caught the grippe, the local Mercedes guy put it right with a twist of the wrist.

            So the secret really is: buy the classic car of your dreams only in the country in which it was made, and then live there!

            (Although I must admit that our 13-year-old Volvo S80, 2.9 engine, has run superbly ever since we bought it new...in France.)

            JE comments:  Love German mechanics. I had one (Hans, German born and bred) in Adrian of all places, and he was a virtuoso with the wrench. Sadly for me, Hans retired last year. Now I'm on my own.

            Following Bob McCabe's advice, if I lived in France I'd get a vintage Peugeot 404. I love the design--and they were the taxi of choice in Santiago, Chile, during the 1980s. Brings back happy memories of my youth.

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            • How About French Cars? A Word for Citroen (John Heelan, UK 01/17/13 4:53 PM)
              JE commented on 17 January: "Following Bob McCabe's advice, if I lived in France I'd get a vintage Peugeot 404. I love the design."

              Watching a recent French film set in the 1940s reminded me of my first love (maybe lust) as a twenty-year old for a Citroën Light 15- front wheel drive with an H-gate gear-stick protruding from the dashboard. I never owned one, but was convinced that if ever I did I had both Brigitte Bardot and Francoise Hardy swoon in my arms!

              JE comments: The legendary Citroën Traction Avant, as well as the post-war DS ("Déesse/Goddess"): two of the most visionary automotive designs ever. I'd particularly love to own a Déesse, but in working condition. That's well-nigh impossible, given its finicky hydropneumatic suspension.

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            • In Praise of Peugeots (Miles Seeley, USA 01/18/13 2:35 AM)

              In 1959 I bought a Peugeot 403 in Paris and drove it through Spain,
              then over to Tangier (by ferry) and drove through Morocco to
              Marrakech. Almost a year later I drove it back up to Tangier and used
              it for 3 years, with no problems of any kind. In Tangier, it seemed
              every English expat--and there were many--had a Jaguar. Every Saturday
              morning they all had drop sheets under the car, masses of tools laid
              out, and they would all be trying to keep the damn things going for
              another week.

              That Peugeot never saw the inside of a repair shop, and it was
              comfortable and had plenty of power. The roads in Morocco were pretty
              bad, but it just chugged on. Great car.

              To be fair, I got a Chevy sedan in 1965 and drove it in Jordan for 3
              years with zero breakdowns. I sold it back in the US and kept track of
              it because it had a large bumper decal indicating it was a foreigner's
              car, and I spotted it in Jackson Hole (Wyoming) and in Utah for another 3-4
              years. Clearly it was a very sturdy if unspectacular car.

              I have had a Mercedes C-280 for almost 15 years, and my wife has had a
              Mercedes 230 for 14 years. They have had time in the shop, but they
              are hardy beasts and well worth the initial cost. They have never once
              stranded us anywhere.

              Oh, and I did have an MG TD (I think) in Japan for 3 1/2 years in the
              mid-1950s. It was sure sporty but a little unreliable, but in Tokyo
              traffic it was an all-star. I sold it to a Japanese film star when I
              left, and he paid a hefty price even though it had a crack in the
              engine block.

              JE comments:  The Peugeot is a uniquely WAISly car, as it means different things in different nations.  In Africa (and Chile), the Peugeot is known for its indestructibility, while the 504, when it was imported to the US in the 1970s-'80s, was strangled by air conditioning and pollution-control equipment.  These add-ons made it so underpowered and unreliable that Peugeot had to give up on the US market.

              My third favorite website (after WAIS and Wikipedia) is Paul Niedermeyer's brilliant "Curbside Classics."  Here's a recent piece he did on the 504's reputation on different continents:


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              • A Triumph in New Haven (Edward Jajko, USA 01/18/13 2:02 PM)
                The recent WAIS postings about Triumphs and Peugeots bring back many memories. My brother bought a Triumph TR-3 back in the very early '60s, possibly 1960 itself; it could have been 1959. He drove it for a while, then got called back in to the Air Force on another extended TDY. I took over the TR-3, which was still in his name, and drove it happily for a few years, although not without incident.

                I drove it from Philadelphia to New Haven in the summer of 1961, when I took my second year of Chinese in Yale's Summer Language Institute. I spent many afternoons driving around New Haven and adjacent towns and the Connecticut countryside, little expecting that I would be living there in a few years. I also spent considerable time driving around hunting for parking spaces near the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS), my residence. One day, after I returned from a pointless jaunt around the area, I parked in front of a restaurant down the street from HGS and as I got out of my car, my father walked out of the restaurant to say hello to me. I turns out that my parents and a favorite aunt and uncle had decided to make the drive of several hours to see me and where I was. They were in the point of giving up and returning home after their lunch when they saw me drive up.

                I made two trips home in that car, the first to bring home all the books I had bought during my eight weeks in New Haven. The car was packed full, all except the driver's seat. The second was when I returned home, and then I gave a ride to a woman student whom I have otherwise completely forgotten. The car was again packed completely full and she had to hold a considerable amount of her own baggage.

                JE comments: Wow, Ed: to move all one's stuff in a TR-3 is nothing less than a Triumph of the Will. (Sorry--for days I've wanted to work that reference into our conversation.)  The list of formerly Triumphant WAISers reads like a Who's Who:  Ed Jajko, Michael Sullivan, Istvan Simon, Cameron Sawyer, David Pike... and Paul Preston, whose note is in the queue.  Having never owned a British (or Italian or French) machine, I feel left out.

                Some WAISers on the sidelines may think it's frivolous to talk about cars, but they are a cultural artifact, a product (and cause) of both modernity and globalization.  Plus the car you drive says a lot about you:  most US academics choose the "standard issue" Honda or Toyota; WAISers are a far more eclectic and adventurous bunch.  (Hope I didn't offend any Honda or Toyota drivers.)

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            • Triumphs in Flight... (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/18/13 6:34 AM)
              Speaking of Triumph automobiles, I owned a 1960 TR-3A, when I was on RAF exchange duty. I picked it up at the factory in Coventry. The choice for me price-wise, as I wanted a sports car, was between the TR-3A, the Austin-Healey and the MGA. The gents in the squadron convinced me to buy the TR-3A, as they said dollar for dollar and pound for pound the TR-3A was the best buy and I'd have fewer maintenance problems. I'm glad I took their advice. It had a hard top, soft top and tonneau cover.

              I drove it all over the UK and Europe for two years and drove it two more years in the US. I had to get rid of it when the kids started growing, as the little back seat area was too small. I never had any mechanical or electrical problems, and the reliable 1991CC engine ran smoothly at any RPM. It had a hard ride, as you sat so close to the ground and the design of the suspension was very stiff, but it always had the feel of a basic sports car without the frills and it cornered well. JE would enjoy driving it between his home and Adrian College, as it was so much fun to drive.

              We had three TRs in our squadron and they were all red! We took a picture of the three red TRs in front of the Javelin, with one in front of the aircraft's nose and the other two midway down each wing. The Javelin was camouflaged dark green and gray, and it turned out a great looking picture for those days! We sent it to Coventry hoping they would make an ad or at least send us an "attaboy" for our efforts...We never heard from them!

              JE comments: Alas, if Triumph had paid a bit more attention to customer PR and loyalty, they still might be making cars. I asked Michael Sullivan about the photograph, and he promised me he'd look for it in his attic. Of course, if/when Michael finds it I'll post it on WAIS.

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              • Another Personal Triumph (Paul Preston, UK 01/18/13 6:58 PM)
                Now you're talking! (See Michael Sullivan, 18 January.) I used to have a TR-3A and drove it with immense pleasure and probably recklessness until it was written off in a rather awful crash when I was crossing a set of traffic lights and an idiot who had jumped the lights at speed hit me broadside on. I was saved by the girder chassis. I then had an MGB, which was fun. As a child, I remember being driven by my father and uncle in a succession of (subsequently) classic cars--a Jaguar Super Swallow, an Alvis coupé, and MGF. I also have great memories of the Jowett Javelin.

                As for cars that constantly broke down and left one on the side of the road, the worst culprits in my life were Fords, three of them, each worse than the previous one. Moving to a Volvo which served well for fifteen years and then a BMW, now in its tenth year, was a curious experience. No betrayals on the road side.

                JE comments: The Alvis coupé, ah--there's a classic. I also had some bad experiences with Fords, especially with the shyster dealers.  My first car ride was in a 1963 Ford Thunderbird, in which I was driven home from the hospital.  I vaguely remember the car from my tenderest years.  My mother still talks about what a lemon it was.

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              • Two-Wheeled Triumphs and the Ace Cafe (John Heelan, UK 01/19/13 3:56 AM)
                When commenting Michael Sullivan's post of 18 January, JE wrote: "Alas, if Triumph had paid a bit more attention to customer PR and loyalty, they still might be making cars."

                Strange! Whenever "Triumph" is mentioned I always associate it first with the motorbikes that were my teenage passion, such as the Tiger 100 with a sprung rear hub and, of course, the Triumph Thunderbird made famous as the chosen steed of Marlon Brando in the seminal film The Wild Ones. That was when motorbikes were real "bikes," noisy and tough to ride, not like the substantially more powerful but almost silent Japanese sewing-machines of today, which my sons ride.

                The Brando film spawned a favourite venue the Ace Café (pronounced Ace Caff) for bikers on the outskirts of London not far from where I lived. The carpark was usually full of bikes, and wannabe "Wild Ones" emulate their hero and race a defined route on the local dal-carriageway (the North Circular Road), aiming to complete the circuit before the jukebox finished playing the chosen rock-and-roll number. Several died from hitting concrete bridge supports while banking too closely at high-speed on a long bend.

                See the history page of the Ace Caff--it has photos of it as I remember it over 50 years ago:


                JE comments:  My thanks to John Heelan for the memory.  I see that tonight (19 January) is Motown night at the Ace.  How uncanny:  I could be there in about 10 hours, but today we're leaving for a weekend getaway to Cancún.

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                • Two-Wheeled Triumphs; A Visit to a Worker Co-op (Henry Levin, USA 01/21/13 7:10 AM)

                  In response to John Heelan (19 January), in 1975 I went to Meriden, England (near Coventry) to visit both
                  Jaguar Motor Works and the Triumph Motorcycle Works. At Jaguar we met
                  with the Managing Director, Jeffrey Robinson, who showed us around and
                  discussed quality problems. I won't say much more about this visit.
                  It was informative and cordial.

                  The Triumph Motorcycle visit was of much greater interest, because to
                  save it from extinction it had become a worker coop with help from the
                  British government and Tony Benn (a strong advocate of cooperatives).
                  At the time I had spent several years with my colleague Robert Jackall
                  working on cooperatives and eventually publishing a book on the topic
                  (Jackall and Levin, Worker Cooperatives in America, University of
                  California Press, 1984). The British (Norton, Indian, Triumph, etc.)
                  along with the Germans (BMW) had dominated the large bikes in the
                  industry for many years; in those days, "large" meant only 750 cc.
                  But in less than a decade the Japanese went from manufacturers of
                  tinny toy bikes to high-quality motorcycles with such innovations as
                  electric starters and high dependability.

                  In contrast, Triumph had
                  been manufactured by seven different union workforces in the same
                  factory with constant strikes by one group or another. Discussions
                  with workers revealed "manufactured defects," because they allowed
                  rework and overtime. Industrial disputes and the milking of assets
                  did in Triumph. Americans loved the Triumph. This plant made the
                  Bonneville, a two cylinder, but loud version. Another plant that was
                  separated corporately after the buyout made the Trident, a three-banger. The Triumph Bonneville was a beautiful bike with a lovely sound,
                  but a bad habit of leaking oil on the garage floor. In fact, any
                  owner would tell you about the oil leaks, because they all had them.

                  The attempt of the Coop was to save jobs by workers buying the factory
                  and focusing on quality and marketing. They also rotated jobs and had
                  relatively equal wages. Things started out well, but the previous
                  owners who had bought the plant from Jaguar had milked it clean of
                  many assets and neglected both manufacturing and product innovation at
                  the time when the Japanese came to town with Hondas that were
                  beautiful, clean, dependable, and magnificent. Of course, many
                  traditionalists preferred the rich sound of the Bonneville and the
                  good old kick starter rather than pushing a button and listening to a
                  quieter and mellow sound with little vibration. The Coop last only
                  for a couple of years, highly dependent on the US market, and faded
                  away because it lacked the ability to compete with the emerging
                  Japanese takeover of the industry. Sadly, the entire British
                  motorcycle industry went down the tubes, despite its form of

                  JE comments:  I understand that the present-day, revived Triumph motorcycle is a completely different company from the days of yore.

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                  • UK Trades Unions Excesses of the 1960s and '70s (John Heelan, UK 01/22/13 9:04 AM)

                    Henry Levin's review of the fate of Triumph (Meriden) (21 January) hits the nail on the head--as usual. In the late 1960s and early '70s, I lived and worked in the heart of the UK manufacturing industry in the Midlands, designing and implementing applications for that industry and observed the problems on a daily basis. It was the era in which the actions of over-powerful trades unions converted the UK economy into today's post-industrial one, almost wholly dependent on service industries.

                    The Midlands manufacturing area became the the source of wage inflation throughout the UK, as different trades unions demanded wage parity with each other despite having very different skill sets. Even sections within the same union would demand parity with their more skillful colleagues (e.g., lathe operators demanded parity with the far more skilled toolmakers that designed, constructed and maintained the very tools the relatively unskilled lathe operators used). One of my projects was held up for six months while the company negotiated with the union that was demanding pay parity with computer operators for unskilled machine-workers.

                    Then there was inter-union strife, so-called "demarcation disputes" (e.g. only a member of the electricians union would be allowed to change a blown light-bulb), leading to "walk-outs," "lightning strikes," and "flying pickets." The net result was that customers could not rely on getting their products either on time or to the quality standard for which they had paid. (Henry is correct about the prevalence of "manufactured defects" to increase overtime opportunities. In one factory where I was installing a new system, the operators frequently made "mistakes" when cutting valuable metals and had to discard the unfinished pieces into a container each had under their machines. Unsurprisingly, at the end of shifts, many of those containers found their way to the unofficial scrap-metal dealer who actually had an informal office on-site!)

                    This trend was not just limited to the manufacturing sector but also endemic in the docks, mines, ship-building, railways, power stations and so on. On arriving back at LHR after trips abroad, our first question was always to find out which of the LHR unions were on strike--baggage handlers, firemen, maintenance workers, etc. There was always somebody!

                    Weak governments usually surrender to their paymasters and turn a blind eye to actions deleterious to the UK's common good. The Wilson/Callaghan Labour governments were in thrall to the trades unions. The Heath Conservative government was too weak to challenge the unions in the way that Thatcher did later. Yet successive Conservative governments did/do little to rein in the actions of big business (Henry Levin already alluded to the asset-stripping that killed Triumph and eventually the UK motorcycle industry), the banks and finance industry, preferring to find ways of transferring public assets into private pockets at heavily discounted prices. This process was continued by the Conservative-Lite Blair/Brown governments, and continues today with the Cameron government with its lack of control of the banks, the privatisation of the NHS and educational system. Nowadays, little of the UK's strategic infrastructure is owned by genuine UK companies rather than UK branches of overseas corporations.

                    The actions of the trades unions were instrumental in pushing the UK to a Post-Industrial Age. The actions of big business and the finance industry together with moving service industries to low-cost off-shore locations are gradually pushing towards the UK to yet another Age.

                    Perhaps there is a potential PhD thesis waiting to be written--"UK: 150 years from Empire to Subaltern State"?

                    JE comments:  John Heelan makes a powerful case for how the trades unions contributed to the UK's demise as a manufacturing nation.  From today's perspective, where organized labor is just a shell of its former self, the days of the "uppity" unions seem so long ago.

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                    • UK Trades Unions Excesses of the 1960s and '70s (Istvan Simon, USA 01/22/13 4:00 PM)
                      I can add a few observations to this interesting dissection of the UK economy of the late 1970s. The first observation I would like to make in response to the wistful post of John Heelan (22 January), who, it seems to me, uses the expression "post-industrial service economy" in a nostalgic way, is that there is nothing wrong with a post-industrial service economy. All modern economies become service economies. Manufacturing continues to be important, and it is actually coming back to the United States, but it is eclipsed by the services.

                      As I mentioned before, I spent 1983 in the UK in Cambridge. And so I was witness to the denouement of the situation that John Heelan describes, in which Margaret Thatcher broke the power of the Unions. It had to be done.

                      Still I would like to add my perspective to this, because what was going on in the UK is not just stubborn and stupid unions that greatly contributed to their own demise, and the demise of UK manufacturing, but also I think there is responsibility in the UK class system, and the peculiar relationship between management and labor that developed there as a result of this class system. Though there are instances in the United Sates where something similar also occurred, for example what happened to the railway industry, unions and management had a much more cordial relationship in general here, with more realistic unions that adapted to the demands of competition and modern economies. This I think explains at least in part why manufacturing is still a robust section of the United Sates economy, whereas it is practically extinct in the UK.

                      In 1983 wages in the UK were low when compared to what existed at the same time in the United States. But wages are tied to productivity, and that is where the rigid and stupid attitudes of not just the unions but also the Labor governments that preceded Margaret Thatcher, which gave in to the Unions, sealed the fate of manufacturing in the UK.

                      The attitude of labor in the UK was of rigid non-adaptability. A watchmaker, when losing his job, rather went on the dole than retrain to do something else. The attitude in the UK was very much "give me back my old job, where nothing would have to change," as if industries owed their workers their jobs, no matter whether they were profitable or not, no matter whether the quality of the products produced was bad or good, no matter whether the market changed to prefer the products of Japanese competitors--see Henry Levin's description of the competition between Honda and the old Triumph motorcycles.

                      Margaret Thatcher started a revolution in the UK, in which this would no longer be accepted. It was the right thing to do and the right thing for the UK. It forced a more realistic behavior from labor. It came too late to save manufacturing, but it created a modern service economy.

                      All the major industries in the UK were losing money in 1983. British Leyland was in the hands of the government, thanks to stupid socialist policies of previous Labor governments. And British Leyland was like all other industries, losing money big time. So in 1983, I was witness to one of the most amazing moments of stupidity that I have ever seen, which illustrates the attitudes of labor and its relations to management that I alluded to earlier.

                      It was called the 5-minute washup case. At the time, British Leyland was paying workers 5 minutes free time at the end of their shift, so the workers could wash up before going home. Management had declared that henceforth they would no longer pay for these 5 minutes, and workers would have to wash up on their own time. Not totally unreasonable, I would say, given that British Leyland was losing money. But labor did not think so. So they went on strike. I heard on TV all sorts of stupid comments at the time about this. Things like, "We get dirty on company time. It is only 'fair' we wash up on company time."

                      The union lost the strike. Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, had stared down the unions, and she broke their obstructionist ways. But once again, the unions did not learn from their defeat. They continued the same ridiculous attitudes all the way to the complete death of their industries.

                      Unions in the United States did not do that. Under similar threats and circumstances, they cooperated much more than in the UK with management, and recognized that an industry that is losing money cannot survive in a capitalist economy. That is why we still have with us the auto manufacturing industry, which is thriving once again, which learned to make products that could compete with the excellent cars coming to our shores from Japan and Korea, Germany, and so on.

                      JE comments: This in an interesting thesis, that the US has tended towards more harmonious labor relations because it never had the class demarcations of the UK.  The UK was also at a competitive disadvantage in manufacturing because it was saddled with old plant and infrastructure--in a sense, it is a bonus to be a latecomer to the manufacturing game.

                      Cameron Sawyer has also written on this topic. Stay tuned.

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                    • Death of the UK Auto Industry (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/23/13 3:47 PM)

                      It is widely believed that the UK automotive industry was killed by trade unions. (See John Heelan, 22 January.)

                      Certainly, the unions played a very significant, and very negative role, in the decline of the British automotive industry. But in my opinion, not the main one.

                      The 1960s and 1970s were a tumultuous period in the world automotive industry, which at that time was trying to adopt different manufacturing techniques (in which our John Heelan seems to have played a direct role) and achieve different levels of efficiency compared to the basically 19th-century methods which had been used up to that point. At the same time, the products themselves were evolving fast, especially in response to new emissions and safety regulations which started to be introduced in the late 1960s, which suddenly made the automobile a rather more complex device than it had been up to then.

                      The failure of the British automotive industry resulted more than anything, in my opinion, from its failure to modernize either manufacturing techniques or products, which caused it to quickly lose its competitiveness in the face, especially, of very strong Japanese competition. If in the 1940s and '50s, drivers all around the world carried tool kits and expected to have to deal with technical problems on the roadside, by the late 1960s drivers (among whose ranks women were appearing at a rapid rate) were becoming less tolerant to the idea that a driver must needs be a driver/mechanic. In the key US market, the niche occupied by British cars in the 1950s had been practically completely taken over by Japanese cars by the late 1960s. In 1959, the UK was the world's No. 2 car producer; by 1960 the UK had been passed by Germany; by 1970, by which time Japan had completed its meteoric rise to become the world's #2 car producer, the UK had been passed also by France to become #5. By 1975, the UK was producing only 1.6 million units a year or only 5% of the world market, cars still powered mostly by long-stroke pushrod engines designed in the 1930s.

                      So this trajectory of decline was well established before the trouble with the unions started. The UK automobile industry failed to keep up with the revolution in car design and manufacturing techniques which the rest of the world managed (the US automobile industry also had enormous problems keeping up, but in the end, unlike the British, it succeded, after various close brushes with death). Part of the failure is no doubt due to the vast amount of time and energy of management which was sunk into dealing with the--as it seems today--insane unions. Another part of the failure was the whole atmosphere in the UK at the time that capitalism was outmoded, and so the government is ultimately responsible for everything, not the management of companies, an atmosphere expressed in endless regulation and state interference with the management of private enterprise. But whatever were the contributory causes, it was ultimately an overall and total failure of management, and a failure of innovation. The ultimate blame really belongs with management, not with the unions, or anyone else.

                      After the industry had become irretrievably uncompetitive, asset-stripping was an absolutely rational next step. Asset-stripping doesn't work if the assets are being used productively.

                      JE comments:  Presently, three of the top five auto producers are in Asia:  China, Japan, and South Korea.  (The US #2 and Germany #4 round out the top five.)  The UK is #14, one spot behind...Iran.

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                      • Death of UK Manufacturing (John Heelan, UK 01/24/13 8:52 AM)
                        Cameron Sawyer and Istvan Simon gave their interesting perspectives (23 January) on my note about the decline of UK manufacturing (exacerbated by union strife) and the inexorable rise of the service industry. Both perspectives have elements of truth in them. Cameron blames management and lack of innovation: in my experience manufacturing management was playing a catch-up game with the competition, especially with German competitors that post-WWII were able to use Marshall Plan money to re-equip plants with the latest machinery while UK manufacturing continued to struggle with outmoded machine tools. Further, German competitors had a more motivated and productive workforce, leavened with a supply of lower-cost immigrant "gastarbeiters." Management was also at fault at times by refusing to acknowledge reality. (I know from personal experience one major aircraft engine manufacturer that refused to recognise the rapidly increasing cost of design and production, and relied on its undoubted product quality to see it through the bad times. It did not and they went bust.)

                        Cameron suggested there was a view that capitalism was outmoded and government intervention was more important. Difficult to support, as there were successive Conservative governments from 1951-1964 and 1970-1974. However the view that "government intervention was more important" was at its height during Labour governments (1964-1970 and 1974-1979). Another sociological element (in my humble opinion) was a general attitude that still said, "Well, we won the war didn't we!" that ignored reality. The major union damage was done between 1964 and 1979, which includes the period of the weak Heath Conservative government that caved in to union power.

                        Istvan compares treatment of unions in the UK and the US and blames the UK class system. Once again, there is some truth in that suggestion, but I suggest it stems more from the traditional stand-off between labour and management that still pertained until perhaps the late '80s. In praising the cooperation between labour and management in the US, Istvan forgets the 35 or so major US strikes in the 1960s and '70s. (Such events as the United Auto Workers nationwide strike against General Motors. That strike lasted 67 days, triggering layoffs at parts suppliers and steel companies. Nor let us forget the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers strike that Reagan ended by sacking 11,345 of them.) The best management approach I observed was in the multinational that employed me. The UK manufacturing workforce demanded a union as there were entitled to do under the law. The management agreed, but pointed out that pay rates would descend considerably to the union's basic rates for that industry. The request for a union disappeared..

                        Regrettably neither Cameron nor Istvan commented on the second part of my hypothesis, in which I suggested that governments in thrall to their paymasters in big business are as much a danger to the long-term economy of of their countries as those governments dominated by union power.

                        JE comments:  Thoughts on John Heelan's second hypothesis?

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                  • Thoughts on British, Japanese Motorcycles (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/10/13 4:58 AM)
                    A couple of trivial corrections to Henry Levin's interesting post on British motorcycles (21 January), just for the record:

                    1. Indian was not a British marque, but an American one. Most of its production was accounted for by the large V-twin Chief, and the smaller (750cc) V-twin Scout. I actually owned a 1929 Scout for some time, bought as a basket case which sadly I never managed to get running. Indian went bankrupt and ceased production in 1953.

                    2. I don't think many people who rode them would call the early Japanese motorcycles "tinny toy bikes." They were high quality from the very start and immediately created a sensation. I actually owned and rode and worked on (and fell off of) a very good selection of the early Hondas, from a CA-50 (the most produced motor vehicle of all times) to a CL90, to a 150 Dream, to a CB350, a CB360, to one of the iconic CB750s, and spent plenty of saddle time on friends' Hondas like the 305 Dream, CB500, SL175, CB125, a CL350, a 900 Bol d'Or, and I can hardly remember what else. When I started riding in 1970, Hondas already dominated the market, and they were a hit in the US from the first year of their importation, 1959.

                    Actually, in a way, Honda created the modern motorcycle market in the US--in 1959, motorcycles had a negative public image and sales in the US were only 60,000 per annum. Honda entered the market with an advertising campaign based on the slogan "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," in order to underline the idea that motorcycles could be a fun and efficient mode of transport for people other than Hell's Angels--they sought to open the motorcycle market to a different demographic. By 1963 (source: http://www.pipeline.com/~randyo/Honda%20History.htm ) Honda alone was selling 150,000 units a year in the US, compared to the entire US market of 60,000 per annum in 1958.

                    I had friends with Norton Commanders and Triumph Bonnevilles. I was a pretty good motorcycle mechanic and my father had an excellently equipped workshop, so I spent a great deal of time helping my friends keep their bikes running. Compared to even the earliest Hondas, those bikes were as if from a different century. They were crude, primitive, poorly engineered, poorly made, made of bad materials (lots of pot metal and bakelite which would disintegrate from the incredible vibration these machines produced), which slung oil all over the place--they couldn't even design or execute a decent crankcase seal. I won't mention the electrics, as we have already shared plenty of Lucas jokes. They were in fact simply shoddy goods foisted upon their poor buyers by arrogant and stupid manufacturers who simply lacked any discipline from competition, until the Japanese came along and rightfully put these firms in their graves.

                    That English people are capable of producing high-quality manufactured goods is exemplified by another motorcycle--the Vincent Black Shadow. I had another friend with one of these. It was old-fashioned for its time, and quirky, but superbly built, by hand, like old Rolls Royces, and superbly engineered. It did not leak oil and ran like a top. It was wonderful to ride. It never broke down so I rarely worked on it, but he did let me ride it from time to time.

                    The Triumph Bonnevilles of the time remind me of the old Soviet joke about Soviet buses:

                    A Japanese delegation visits a Soviet bus factory. A factory representative proudly shows the Japanese a new bus right off the production line, and drives them around in it. A representative of the workers collective is standing by as they come back. The Japanese run up to him, shake his hand, and exclaim "Bravo! Why, you made it yourself in your spare time, didn't you?"

                    JE comments: I always enjoy talking motorcycles with Cameron Sawyer. Vincent Black Shadows are now probably the most coveted model on the vintage market. In mint condition they can sell for over $100,000.

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              • One Last Triumph... (Robert McCabe, France 01/19/13 4:11 AM)
                All this talk of Triumphs reminds me that my brother Graham bought a new Triumph TR-2 (dark green, red leather) while visiting me in Germany in 1956. He drove it all over Europe that year, then shipped it home to Minneapolis. (the car behaved splendidly.) That fall, he took it down to Kansas State University with him, where it promptly blew two (or was it three?) main bearings. He nimbly swapped it for a splendid little Morris Minor convertible which ran forever.

                JE comments: The biggest Triumph of all is the day you sell your British sports car!  I note that several WAISers purchased their machines in Europe and shipped them to the US.  My father always wanted a Mercedes, and dreamed of buying one in Germany and bringing it home.  (He never did.)  It seems that until the 1980s or so, this method was actually cheaper than buying a car here.  Nowadays it's prohibitively expensive to do your own importing--endless regulations and conflicting compliance laws.

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                • Importing Your Own Car; A Mercedes at Speed (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/21/13 6:14 AM)
                  JE's comments on privately importing cars from Europe (see Robert McCabe, 19 January) are correct, as I know in the early 1970s a friend of mine went to Germany, bought a brand new, expensive model Mercedes, stayed in Europe for 30 days touring around, and after 30 days shipped his car back into the US as a used car and he paid no duty or tax on it. He was in the military, so I don't know if active-duty military personnel had special tax breaks then on importing vehicles. I paid no duty or tax on my Triumph TR-3A when I brought it back into the US in 1962, but I'd been in the UK for two years on military orders.

                  My favorite story about my friend was he was driving from MCAS El Toro, Santa Ana, California to MCAS Yuma, Arizona and was on the open road between El Centro, CA and Yuma. It's about a 50-mile stretch of nothing but straight highway with sand and irrigation canals on both sides. It's totally barren! Of course, he opened the Mercedes up and was cruising at well over 100 MPH when he saw a blinking red light in his rear view mirror way in the distance, so he figured he'd had been observed and clocked by the California State Highway Patrol. He thought it's already going to be a big-dollar speeding ticket, so he might as well make a run for it. So he floored it and got the Mercedes going as fast as it would go and he started opening up the distance between him the CHP car chasing him until he could barely see him.

                  Unfortunately, approaching the California-Arizona state border, everyone goes through an agricultural inspection station entering Arizona. When he arrived, he was behind two cars already going through the inspection process. This gave time for the CHP car to finally catch up with him so he was "had." However, the good news, and it made the expensive ticket all worth the price, was that the CHP officer got out of his patrol car as his radiator blew up! Win some, lose some!

                  JE comments: The fine must have been hefty, but the story is priceless! The days of "running for it" to escape a speeding ticket are long gone--GPS technology will get you every time.

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              • A Triumph at the Arc del Triomf: Barcelona 1961 (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/25/13 7:55 AM)
                Here's a photo of me in the summer of 1960 or '61 (I was there both years) with my Triumph TR-3A in Barcelona. Over two summers we drove the TR through just about every western European country from Sweden, down through Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and Holland. It was really nice traveling through the countryside and seeing the beautiful scenery and culture in each country. I remember having snowball fights in the Alps, as the St. Gotthard Pass we traveled through had just been opened to road traffic as they'd had closed it due to a huge snow storm.

                After going back to Europe to visit as a tourist 40 to 50 years later, the pace has quickened and the big cities have gridlock on their streets just like the US. I'm glad I was initially able to see Europe in a more genteel and less congested time.

                JE comments: What a beautiful car... not to mention its handsome pilot! Michael Sullivan has found a cache of Kodachrome slides from the 1960-'61 period, and e-mailed me several shots of the Triumph. I will eventually assemble these never-before-published images in a photo gallery for WAIS. For now, I'd like to share two photos of Michael and his Triumph, the first of which shows our intrepid colleague in front of Barcelona's Arc del Triomf. Yesterday I zapped the photo to our colleague in Barcelona, Jordi Molins, who sent this comment:

                "Yes, this is in Barcelona, in the so-called Arc del Triomf (Triumph Arch; how funny that the car is a Triumph). But the landscape is very different nowadays. Cars cannot drive there, now everything is better preserved (I bike there often). Nice picture!"

                The second shot is in a less exotic locale--I would guess California, but I forgot to ask Michael where.  The architecture is decidedly American, although the weather and the greenery look more British.  [It's Wroxham, England; see below--JE.]  Note that Michael's TR has left-hand drive.  He ordered it that way at the factory in England, in anticipation of exporting the car to the US.

                Thank you for these wonderful photos, Michael!

                Michael Sullivan with Triumph in Barcelona, c. 1961


                A Proud Pilot (Michael Sullivan) and his Steed (Triumph TR-3A). Wroxham, c. 1961

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                • Freezing in Wroxham (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/26/13 10:16 AM)
                  The second picture posted by JE (25 January) was actually taken in Wroxham, England, a very nice little community seven miles north of Norwich, where I lived while stationed at RAF Coltishall. The house was built by an RAF Wing Commander who had an exchange tour in the US and he modeled after that home. The trouble was he didn't put double pane windows in his house and we had a huge bay window looking out over the rear garden. The cold winds seemed to come right through!

                  I was cold eight months out of the year and carried a paraffin heater that looked like a big lantern around with me during the winter months. I got several slight burns from getting too close to it! The Brits keep their homes about 10 degrees colder than Americans.

                  The owner had installed a radiator system where the water was heated by coal. You couldn't get enough coal into the furnace to make the water or radiators very warm, and you could grab the radiator and it was just warm!

                  I was sitting in ground school one morning after breakfast, up near Ripon at RAF Lemming while checking out in the Javelin when I first arrived in the UK. I was freezing and had on my uniform and my overcoat over that plus gloves. A big Brit pilot comes into the room and says, "My God, it's stuffy in here!" and goes over and opens a large classroom window all the way! It took a while for me to get acclimatized and I really never did as I was from Southern California.

                  JE comments: Michael Sullivan does look chilly in the second photograph (http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=74542&objectTypeId=66202&topicId=4923 ). He seems more comfortable in Barcelona. I'm not sure which place the Triumph preferred.

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                • Triumph in Avignon (David Pike, France 01/30/13 8:37 AM)
                  Now that I see we have a US Marine Corps general (Michael Sullivan, 25 January) in our think-tank who chose a Spitfire, and reading all these other WAISer Spitfire enthusiasts and viewing the models, I scramble to join the squadron. This photo is of me in Avignon in 1965. It flies best on 15 September, Battle of Britain Day.

                  JE comments: About 15 years ago I too stood on that picturesque shore in Avignon, perhaps in the hope of spying a Cubist bathing beauty or two.  (!)  But David Pike in a Spitfire is almost as dazzling.  This particular model looks stunning in crisp white.  Most appropriate for a Papal city...

                  Magnifique, David!  Thank you for sending the photo.

                  (One tiny correction:  Michael Sullivan's Triumph was an earlier model, the TR-3A.)

                  David Pike in Triumph Spitfire, Avignon, 1965

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                  • Triumph Spitfires and TRs (Paul Preston, UK 01/31/13 8:01 AM)

                    JE commented that the Triumph TR-3A was an "earlier model" relative to the Spitfire. There is no comparison between the two.  (See David Pike's post of 30 January.) The Spitfire is much later and aimed at a different clientele. The successors to the TR3-A were the TR4A, the TR5 and the wonderful, but way out of my financial possibilities, TR6.

                    JE comments:  I love to conclude this morning's WAISing on a Triumphant note!  Although my comment was ambiguous, I am aware that the TRs were never "replaced" by the Spitfire.  The latter was a cheaper model, and both series were produced concurrently until the Spitfire's demise in 1980.  The TR7 "wedgemobile" was dreadful, but the TR6, as Paul Preston notes, is highly coveted.  TR6s indeed hold their value, but they're not that obscenely priced.  Here's a restored, red beauty in Florida you could pick up for $12K--less than a new Kia:


                    Are they much dearer in their Native Land?

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            • Painful Memories of Jaguars (Randy Black, USA 01/19/13 3:30 AM)

              I've enjoyed the discussions of British sports cars, which while beautiful machines, do not seem properly engineered or mechanically reliable.

              I've had my positive and mostly negative experiences twice with British automotive engineering.

              In 1971, I purchased a 1967 Jaguar XK-E Coupe, Series 1 from a family friend who'd purchased it new. That's the one with the closed headlights. It was low mileage, beautiful inside and out with perfect leather and a working dashboard. I enlisted a certified Jag mechanic who lived in my neighborhood to check it out. He gave it a passing grade and remarked that surprisingly, all of the gauges worked, that the engine and carbs were solid as was the 4-speed synchronized transmission, and that there was no rust.

              For months all went well. Every time I turned the key, it was a joy to watch the Lucas gauges come to life. The dash panel gauges featured the airplane flip-type switches, not rocker switches. When I stopped at any filling station in those days before self-service, the station attendants always argued as to who would get to check my oil. Obviously, they wanted a look under the hood. Naturally I opened the hood and did it myself while they watched. No one was touching anything under my hood. I recall that the carburetors were especially sensitive to the touch.

              The engine was a sight that gave me goose bumps. Just checking the oil in the 4.2 liter, triple SU carburetors, 6-cylinder engine was a joy. The ride was fantastic and the speed... well, I once got it up to 144 mph and 5,500 rpm in a light rain shower on a lonely west Texas stretch of state highway. When it started to float, I eased off the gas pedal. I was lucky to survive, my mechanic told me later.

              The problems began to show up at about the six month mark. First a fuel pump, then the fan belt, then the wire wheels needed tuning, next was the cooling fan and then the turn signal apparatus failed. Two years in, my private mechanic informed me that the clutch was going out. Just to change out the clutch involved pulling the entire engine! In 1974, the labor was upwards of about $800 plus the clutch. I decided to sell it soon thereafter. I got out of it for what I had in it, but I've always longed for that car.

              David, my mechanic and neighbor, told me that "the Brits build the most beautiful sports cars, but boy do they make them difficult to work on."

              For the following six or seven years, I thought often of getting another Jag. But darn it, the darn things are like owning a boat.

              Eventually, another family friend offered to sell me his 1976 XJ-6, a Hershey chocolate-brown 4-door, again with good leather and power everything. The trick here was that it had a Chevy block, complete with chrome valve covers and air filter. In fact, most of the stuff under the hood was Chevy and chromed. I mistakenly figured that with a Chevy engine, what could go wrong. Heck, I can even work on it I told myself, it being a Chevy. Boy was I off the mark.

              David advised against it, telling me that those models had seriously flawed electrical systems and that the fuel pumps, among other parts, were an expensive proposition of proprietary parts that were submerged in each rear fender tank and which failed often. But I was blindly in love with that shiny brown beauty and bought it. Eventually, after two pumps, he taught me how to work on them and gave me a money-saving tip: They are compatible with a Chevy Nova fuel pump and thus, about $175 cheaper than the factory Jag fuel pump at that time!

              I could jack up the rear end, take off the wheel, unscrew three screws from an access panel hidden behind the wheel, loosen the fuel tank drain underneath and catch the fuel for later use, take off the three electrical leads, give the pump a half turn, pull it straight out, walk to the local parts store and place it on the counter with the request to "replace this please." The first time in, the parts guy said, "Oh, you've got an old Nova, huh?" Five minutes and about $12 later, off I'd go to get the Jag back on the road...again and again.

              But back on the very first weekend after I brought it home, I got up early on Saturday, washed it, polished it, really spiffed it up and took it down on Greenville Avenue in Dallas about lunchtime. In those days, I was single, Greenville was full of sidewalk cafes, chicks and guys parading up and down the avenue in their shiny cars. I made perhaps four passes and then retreated to my driveway and parked.

              I went in the house, grabbed a cool Dos Equis from the fridge, went out on the front porch, sat down on the steps and admired my new-used but shiny Jag.

              At that exact moment it caught on fire! No kidding.

              Black smoke began to erupt from the front wheel wells and around the gaps where the hood meets the body. Naturally I'd left my keys on the coffee table in my living room and the front door had blown shut and locked. With the car smoking, I ran to the back porch, rushed in, grabbed the phone and my keys and called the fire department. I ran out of the house, unlocked the car, tried the hood release but the cabling had melted under the hood. I grabbed a screw driver from a tool box and pried the hood open just as the fire department pulled up.

              The hood now open, smoke and flames coming from around the battery area, the burly fireman said, "Step aside son," as he reached into the engine compartment and with wire cutters, clipped the battery cable thus stopping the electrical fire's progress. Another fireman extinguished what remained of the flames.

              I thanked them and off they went. I sat back down on the steps and, shaking all over and almost in tears, tried to finish my beer. Just when I was wondering how things could get worse, it started to rain but with no power to the electric windows, I could not even close them.

              My first weekend with a Jag XJ-6 was only the beginning of my trials and tribulations. It lasted about another year before I traded it in for a new Ford Mustang. This little story should be titled "Never Again."

              I'm now on my fourth Mustang and my third ‘Stang convertible and I've never had one catch fire or even break down.

              JE comments: Nearly all Jaguars have behavioral problems, demanding much love and careful parenting from their owners. Still, spontaneous combustion takes the cake: my heart goes out to Randy Black.

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          • The Range Rover: Why? (Henry Levin, USA 01/17/13 10:27 AM)

            In response to Cameron Sawyer's points of 17 January: Why do people buy Range
            Rovers? Every report on them for the last fifty years says that they
            have terrible reliability and cost a fortune to fix. Yet, Range Rover
            is considered a prestige SUV-type, and the rich buy them for some
            reason. Enlighten us, Range Rover owners and aficionados.

            JE comments: Range Rovers are comfortable and extremely rugged--when they run. I suspect their real attraction is the cachet of driving the vehicle that conquered Africa. Also, I think Queen Elizabeth has one. One always looks good driving a Range Rover--unless you're at the side of the road with the hood up, cursing.

            My high school friend, Dr. Rob Hunter, has owned Range Rovers for the last 15 years. He complains endlessly about their cost, thirst, and unreliability--and then buys a new one.

            So I'm with Hank Levin here. What's the attraction, Cameron?

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      • Triumph Spitfire (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/14/13 1:49 AM)
        You can add my name to the list of WAISers who owned Triumph Spitfires. (See Istvan Simon's and David Pike's posts of 13 January.)

        It was nearly my first car; I was 13 years old and without a license. I bought it for, I think, $200, in immobile condition with a thrown rod. Repaired this, and had many happy days driving it (illegally) around the back roads of Williamson County, Tennessee. It was a vile contraption with one of those exceedingly primitive long-stroke English engines with pre-war roots and finicky constant-velocity SU carburetors (you had to keep the "dashpots" full of automatic transmission fluid), and with a swing-axle rear suspension designed to flip the car and kill you at the slightest provocation. Fortunately, I soon sold it at a profit and went back to restoring the MGA which I still own to this day. JE's Mazda Miata is an incomparably better machine.

        JE comments: I've sold a lot of my cars, but never at a profit! I do, however, own a vintage machine with a swing-axle rear suspension: a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair. It also has carburetor ("carburettor" in British) issues, which keep it off the road most of the time. Must get this fixed in the spring. In the meantime, I've proven Ralph Nader wrong: my 'Vair is 100% safe at its prevailing speed of 0 MPH.

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      • History of the Hesperides (Randy Black, USA 01/14/13 2:08 AM)

        After a brief Web search, I found that Ronald Hilton’s beloved Hesperides, 766 Santa Ynez Street home, had an earlier name. (See David Pike's post of 13 January.)

        It was known by its first owner, Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, professor of hygiene at Stanford, as Casa Iseo after Lake Iseo in northern Italy, according to writer Elisbeth Newfield.
        Dr. Mosher was born in 1863 and built the home when she was 63. Dr. Mosher, who earned her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1900 and worked in France during WWI, died in 1940. Her life was extremely interesting. 
        See the photos and the description at:


        The author of the above story says the following:
        Ronald Hilton. Hilton and his wife, Mary, arrived at Stanford from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1941. He was professor of Romanic languages until he retired, in 1976. In 1944, he founded the Hispanic American Studies and Luso-Brazilian Studies programs, for which he established Bolivar House as the administrative center.
        Today (per the 2006 article), Bolivar House is the center for the interdisciplinary program in Latin American Studies.

        Hilton was born in July 1911 in Torquay, England, and received a B.A. in 1933 and M.A. in 1936 from Oxford. He studied at the Sorbonne (1933–34), University of Perugia (1935–36), and the University of California at Berkeley (1937–39). From 1931 to 1936, he spent a great deal of time in Madrid as the Spanish Civil War unfolded.

        He married Mary Bowie in May 1939, and from 1939 to 1942 was professor of modern
        languages at the University of British Columbia. Hilton resigned from Stanford’s Hispanic
        American Studies program in 1964 and the following year founded the World Association
        of International Studies (WAIS), an international network of scholars, journalists,
        business people, and others interested in world affairs. Today he serves as president of the
        Web-based organization, which publishes online articles and holds periodic conferences.
        Hilton has published widely in the area of Hispanic studies, history, and literature.

        With enthusiasm, the Hiltons took on the long process of restoring the house and
        improving the grounds. They raised their daughter, Mary Alice, here. Although Hilton
        has not taught since 1976, the house is still full of work, projects, and pleasures. It also houses
        the operations of WAIS. It is unusual for a house 80 years old to have been home to only
        two owners. And it is very fortunate that the second owners have loved and continued to
        enhance the Mediterranean look and feel so beloved by the original owner, designer, and

        JE comments:  Dr. Mosher, as a woman MD in 1900 and a veteran of the Great War, must have had every bit as extraordinary a life as Prof. Hilton.  If only the walls of the Hesperides could talk...

        It just so happens that Mary Hilton Huyck has sent an update on the home where she grew up. Mary's post is next in the queue.


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      • A Visit to the Hesperides (Mary Hilton Huyck, USA 01/14/13 2:25 AM)
        After my parents' deaths, their house was bought by a young professor of psychiatry at the Stanford Medical School. He, his wife (a psychotherapist), and their three teenage children now live there.

        When my husband and I were on the campus last May (my first time back since selling the house), the owner very kindly took us on a tour of the place. It felt a bit strange to be in my old home and yet it wasn't my home at all any more, but I was fascinated to see how the owners are using the place and to note the changes (nothing shocking and many quite nice) they have made.

        I believe that they are currently doing some further renovation that had not begun when Phil and I were there. The main thing that astounded me, and rather impressed me, is that they always go in and out via the official front door, which is quite a long walk downhill from the wrought-iron entry gate on Santa Ynez. They simply do not go through the upstairs patio as we always did. What this means is that even in pouring rain and with their arms full of grocery bags, they walk down the outside stairs for about three flights, enter the house, and then walk up three flights to reach the kitchen and deposit the heavy bags. Clearly, this is a family with very high standards and a laudable level of decorum!

        Happy New Year to all WAISers!

        Warmly, Mary Hilton Huyck

        JE comments: A joyous New Year to Mary and Phil Huyck, and my thanks to Mary for the update.  Have the new owners perchance kept the home's name?  The Hesperides by any other name just wouldn't do.

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        • The Hesperides and St. Swithun's (Mary Hilton Huyck, USA 01/15/13 3:28 AM)
          To answer John Eipper's query about a name for the old Hilton house (14 January), I somehow doubt that the new owners have given it any moniker. Actually, I cannot recall the house's having a name during the years when I was growing up there. I do not remember that there were any signs or tiles to that effect. I suspect that my father, in his English fashion, gave the house a name (the Hesperides) at some point during or after the 1960s. Maybe the Vietnam War turmoil that then gripped the campus caused him to want to harken back to an older, more orderly time and to adopt a tradition from his homeland. Who knows? It certainly was not foreign to him, though, to name a house. My parents called their first house, which was located in Vancouver, British Columbia, St. Swithun's.

          JE comments: St. Swithun is not one of the higher-profile saints, but natives of Winchester know him well.  Legend has it that the weather on his feast day (15 July) will continue to hold for forty days:


          I wonder why Swithun never gained popularity as a boy's "Christian" name in the UK.

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      • More on the Triumph Spitfire (Istvan Simon, USA 01/14/13 2:39 PM)
        I enjoyed very much David Pike's story about his Triumph Spitfire (13 January). So clearly I am not the only WAISer that had one. However, I did not buy David's Spitfire, that's for sure.

        I bought mine brand new in England in 1975. I had ordered it from British Leyland well before my arrival, and it should have been waiting for me, but true to form and to British (in)efficiency at the time, I had to wait several days for delivery.

        It was a beautiful car, blue and sporty, but it was more pretty than good. When I drove it in Eastern Europe, the kids in their Trabants were admiring it looking with marvel in their eyes through the rear window, and pointing at me. I felt like a celebrity. But the car was junk. It was underpowered, so all the Mercedes in the insane European autobahns, where at the time there were no speed limits at all, were impatiently pushing me off the road. Worse, when it rained, water seeped into the cabin.

        JE asked me what I did with it. My plan was that I would sell it for nearly what I had paid for it when returning to the SF Bay Area. It did not work. I had to sell it at a considerable loss. I had already a Datsun, and definitely did not need two cars.

        Regarding Nigel Jones's disparaging comments about Lincoln (13 January), I could not disagree more. Lincoln was a great President. Though the Civil War was certainly the greatest tragedy that our country suffered, as John Eipper pointed out, this was not Lincoln's fault. Lincoln had his problems with incompetent Union generals, but eventually he succeeded. Whether he was a racist or not, I do not know. But I rather doubt it, because African-American citizens in this country revere Lincoln, and I think rightly so.

        The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most moving historical monuments in the United States. I visited it this last July with my family, when we were on the East Coast on vacation.

        JE comments: Thought I'd set the mood with an image of a Spitfire, taken straight from the Internet.  Like Istvan's this one is blue and from 1975 (note the bulbous front bumper).  Junk or not, it's a stylish ride:

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    • A Muddy Triumph, Phylloxera and Other Threats (David Duggan, USA 01/14/13 7:24 AM)
      I suspect that the fungus that Istvan Simon mentioned (13 January) was the same fungus that ruined the Irish potato crop in the 1840s, the undoubted cause of emigration of some of my ancestors. And I suspect that the Chilean and Australian scrupulosity over the import of fruits and vegetables may be related to the fact that the phylloxera pest has never been in those areas, and they have vast vineyards to protect.

      JE comments: Absolutely. Chileans are always quick to point out that their root stock, originally from France, is the "real thing," whereas France had to re-plant hybrid grapes from California. I suspect that this is also the case with that other great vintner of the Antipodes, Australia. (I know: Argentina and South Africa are also significant wine-producing nations of the Southern Hemisphere.)

      I just learned this from Wikipedia:  the phylloxera insect was first imported to Europe in the 1850s, by English winemakers experimenting with American plants.  Might we have found another source of the centuries-old Anglo-French animosity?

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  • Chilean Customs: A Clarification (Henry Levin, USA 01/13/13 3:51 AM)

    Carmen Negrín (12 January) may have misunderstood my plaint regarding the Chilean aduana
    with respect to food. My concern is not the Chilean regulations, which
    are designed to protect their agriculture from the introduction of
    pests. That is legitimate, and the US has the same goals.

    My concern is the treatment of innocent violations such as the
    forgotten apple in the backpack that was not declared by a groggy
    senior citizen who arrived after an all-night flight. The Chilean
    response is officious and requires substantial detention, humorless
    interrogation, and considerable paperwork and an entry in the
    computerized immigration files of name with passport number and
    violation, other personal information and an admission of criminal
    guilt based upon three different statutes recorded in the record.

    In the US the discovery of a single apple in a mochila would
    engender a gentle warning and a toss into a trash container with other
    "minor" and unintentional contraband, not a two-hour detention and an
    interrogation by a slow-witted funcionario. Over the years we know
    many friends who have been caught with jamón Ibérico. Not a single
    one was detained, cited, deposed, or fined, and the demeanor of the
    inspector was respectful and instructive, although stern in a short
    lecture about responsibility.

    There is absolutely no comparison with the treatment in the two countries.

    JE comments:  Regarding jamón ibérico, I see that Latienda.com, everyone's favorite US importer of (legal) Spanish victuals, is holding a sale:  $1225 for a 9-lb. boneless ibérico.  That's a $55 savings over the regular price!  (It must really hurt to have your jamón confiscated at the airport.)

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