Monday, June 16, 2008

California Screamin'

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and currently a professor at the University of California at Berkeley (read: elitist) is “delighted” with the high price of gas because he believes it will force people to start using public transportation. Of course, when asked why he still commutes by car he admits, “I’ve never been able to organize myself around their schedules.” Interpretation: Public transportation is good for the ‘little people’ – I’m far too important to associate with the huddled masses. Besides, it’ll help free up the traffic on the highways and make my commute a whole lot easier – after all, I’ve got young minds to warp, you know.”

The city of Vallejo, CA has filed for bankruptcy (its proximity to San Francisco should come as no surprise). For me, this is simply the inevitable result of the irresponsible behavior of many indulgent Americans who quite frequently choose to default on their obligations because there’s no longer any shame associated with bankruptcy – today it’s just an available, often convenient, recompense that rewards recklessness.
While this occurs all across the country, I’m picking on California because the housing boom we’ve experienced over the past few years was more pronounced there; just as is the precipitous downtrend they’re suffering through now. And whether real or artificially inflated, higher home prices translate into higher appraisal values which equates to higher tax revenues for local governments. However, when Vallejo’s budget started to get squeezed as a result of decreased tax revenues due to the slump in housing prices, they didn’t bother to try finding ways to make things work by doing with less, they simply declared bankruptcy – ‘help me Nanny-State’.
Why be accountable? It’s the American dream to become a homeowner. So who cares if you secure financing by overstating your income, buy more home than you know you can afford, and put little or no money down?! And who could guess that those lower initial interest adjustable-rate mortgages would actually adjust annually? It’s not fair, you expect me to adhere to the terms of my contract?!
And the lenders who crafted all their byzantine subprime loan schemes seem puzzled that subprime borrowers with a poor credit scores and a delinquent payment histories would fail to pay their mortgage? What are we suppose to do when we can’t refinance buyers into a legitimate loans and they now owe more than their homes are worth? Since when does a boom ever go bust? Help us Father Congress, please absolve us from our responsibilities.
What’s been largely overlooked in this mortgage and housing crisis is that the financial risks associated with any loans are always offset – usually through higher interest rates, increased fees, and other credit enhancements. As Bear Stearns’ chief executive stated before a congressional hearing in Washington, just as President Bush was orchestrating a federal bailout for their neglectful performance (and risking our country’s financial future in the process), “the impetus [for the run] was a lack of confidence, not a lack of liquidity.” These banks, much like the city of Vallejo, enjoyed the spoils while the market was riding high but are now running to the government to help them avoid paying their ‘bills’.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy having to shoulder the burden for people, or organizations, that make poor choices. Sadly, this fallout has impacted everyone – including those of us who choose to follow the rules (yeah, I know . . . we’re suckers).

As if it couldn’t get any worse, many banks are now breaking the law by not paying backlogged homeowner association fees for the foreclosed homes they’ve taken ownership of once the buyers default. Foreclosed properties add to the existing inventory of homes on the market and drag down home prices. When these homes aren’t properly maintained, entire neighborhoods are made to suffer. Banks need to be held accountable for their slipshod loans, as well as for maintaining the homes they’ve brought to foreclosure.

Last week, John McCain said he was “intrigued by a man on Mars” – I think we all know the man he has in mind.

Learned a new word last week that I’ll most likely never get to use again: paraskevidekatriaphobia . . . the fear of Friday the 13th.

Overheard from the office: Female coworker to copy machine: “You have enough paper, you bitch.” I can especially relate to this since I swear at inorganic objects habitually. Any one else suffer this peculiarity?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Little Venom

A young couple out of Philadelphia were arrested back in December - accused of financing a jet-setting lifestyle through an elaborate identity theft scheme. The boyfriend, an Ivy Leaguer, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, access-device fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. The story is newsworthy again because the girlfriend, 22-year-old Jocelyn Kirsch, has apparently been arrested for shoplifting and stealing a co-worker’s credit card while out on bail. Obvious to me, she’s failed to exhibit any compunction for her actions and is completely brazen. She needs to be in jail, not under house arrest wearing an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet . . . wondering if her fake Bonnie & Clydes or hair extensions had anything to do with the judge’s leniency?!!

Identity theft just rankles me - not only do you end up spending over forty hours of your own time trying to repair the damage to your finances, but you’ve got the added irritation of having to restore your credit – all as a result of some immoral and corrupt felons who thought they were deserving of getting something (from you) for nothing (for them).

We all pay for this type of crime – not directly – but through higher prices, lower returns, and excessive premiums to cover this type of loss. Her most recent act of depravity also begs the question – “How is this woman even working?” Who the hell did the background check on this girl?

I have a higher opinion of bank robbers than I do for these dregs of society – and I think very little of bank robbers!

A big thanks to the egoistic, navel-gazing, full of herself young woman who felt it necessary to engage us all in the events of your life by carrying on several phone conversations in the middle of the workout room. We now all understand why your husband travels during the week!

While there may be those who were fascinated by the exciting details of your “most awesome” weekend, I don’t count myself amongst them. I’m sure I just don’t appreciate the fact that it’s probably a matter of national security for you to have your phone with you at all times – “Hello Karen (fake name)? This is Dr. Smith from CERN. We’ve got some new ideas about the origins of the universe that we’d like to run by you . . . “ – but can’t you shuffle your pompass out to the reception area to make those all so necessary phone calls? “Hey it’s me, just callin’ to see whatcher doin’, . . . yeah, . . . uh-huh, . . . yeah” – riveting!

That’s the last time I forget to bring my iPod to the gym . . . looking for a cheap cell phone signal jamming device now!

Having had the experience of working in Washington D.C., I found it very unsettling to read that the police there are sealing off entire neighborhoods, setting up checkpoints and kicking out strangers under a new ‘program’ that officials hope will help them “rescue the city from its out-of-control violence”. People who live, work or have “legitimate reason” to be in these “Neighborhood Safety Zones” will be required to show identification. All others will be sent away or arrested.

All the problems this city faces, and they are innumerable, are directly attributable to the failed social engineering experiment that is D.C. – regressing to a Gestapo police state will not fix them.

Funny quote from a troubling story: Last week, a man in Britain was prevented for getting on a plane for wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a robot holding a gun! He was told, “You cannot get on the plane because there is a gun on your T-shirt.” When asked about the incident later he said, "It’s a cartoon robot with a gun as an arm. What was I going to do, use the shirt to pretend I have a gun?"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's Really Not There

It’s incomprehensible to me how someone can knowingly make promises they can’t deliver, yet most politicians do it with such regularity it’s almost come to be expected. It seems to me that many Americans are to the point where they’re so averse to hearing objectionable news, regardless of how truthful and legitimate it may be, they’re practically crying out to be deceived.

One particularly troubling theme that’s being venerated by the presidential candidates and the lamestream media is this fantasy, however desirous, of health care is a ‘right’. I’ve read the Bill of Rights numerous times . . . peaceably to assemble . . . keep and bear Arms . . . unreasonable searches and seizures . . . speedy and public trial . . . seriously, there’s no mention of health care.

I could imagine, after several glasses of Scotch, that an extremely charitable interpretation of the phrase ‘promote the general Welfare’ could warrant a conversation about the role of government in medicine, but nationalized health care is a frightenly bad idea for a myriad of reasons. If you happen to think universal medicine is a laudable idea, let’s take a moment to envisage a health care system managed entirely by the Nanny-State. You want competence? Familiar with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the United States Postal Service? You want sympathy and kindness? Ever had any dealings with the Internal Revenue Service, your local Department of Public Safety, or the Department of Homeland Security? You want fiscal prudence? Like to talk about the policies of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, audit any contracts awarded to the Department of Defense, or review the earmarks placed into any legislation approved by your representative in the last few months? By its very nature, government is ineffective, careless, and wasteful.

Now despite being wrought with fraud, excess and inefficiency, we still have the greatest health care system in the world – although it is in need of reform. The real challenge here is that any meaningful change is going to require a conscientious deliberation of difficult choices and real leadership. Unfortunately, no one in Congress, or campaigning for President, seems to have either a conscience or leadership ability. So we’ll continue to plod along until ultimately, much like the fatigued knee joints of a corpulent couch potato on his third trip to the dessert bar at the all-you-can-eat buffet, our healthcare system will collapse of its own weight.

In the meanwhile, to keep my ill-considered opinions from having an effect on the semblance of a right mind, I’m reminded of the wisdom of Ellis in No Country For Old Men:

Can’t stop what’s comin’ . . . it all ain’t waiting on you.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Vintage by Rocky Patel 1992 Torpedo

Dropped by my local cigar purveyor the other day hoping to find a Rocky Patel Decade Torpedo, but since they’ve recently been advanced to “classic” status by Cigar Aficionado with a 95 rating, they’re nearly impossible to find . . . even online. So I picked up a few other smokes and decided I would continue with my attempts to rate cigars here in an effort to convey what limited knowledge I enjoy about cigar smoking as well as maintain a virtual journal of the cigars I’ve smoked.

The recognized method for rating any cigar includes deliberating on the look and feel of the cigar, its draw and burn rate, and how it tastes. Over the years, I’ve developed an affinity for specific cigars because of their size, brand, strength, and flavor. My rating system was never what you’d call sophisticated, but I knew what I liked and my preferences matured to where my humidor is now filled with mostly robusto- and belicoso-sized smokes of medium- to full-bodied strength.
One of the other stogies I picked up during this visit was the Vintage by Rocky Patel 1992 Torpedo which I smoked a few days ago. This was a true international cigar with filler tobacco from the Dominican Republic & Nicaragua, a binder from Mexico, and a wrapper from Ecuador. It’s a six and ¼ inch by 52 ring gauge with a distinctive box-pressed shape that I enjoy [gives it a look of style].
The wrapper was smooth and slightly oily, with visible veins, and prior to lighting it I was a little concerned because this was one of the most tightly constructed cigars I’ve ever purchased. But it lit without difficulty and I was able to easily draw smoke through the cigar. The burn line was somewhat uneven, as you may note from the picture, although this have been attributable to the breezy conditions on my ‘back porch.’ It still produced a nice, solid light-grey ash, a good amount of resting smoke, and a rich, consistent aroma. The dominant flavors for me throughout the duration of the cigar were wood (primarily oak) and earth tones, but with no harshness and a strong finish (hung around for while after its inevitable end).
While this cigar is rated as medium-bodied, I wouldn’t recommend it for a ‘cigar aficionado plebe’ because it was highly-flavored. Of course, the sensitivity of your taste buds is what determines a cigar’s taste and strength. That’s what makes the cigar manufacturing process so fascinating for me and why I find the end products true works of art. Even within my narrowly defined range of cigar preferences, there are an abundance of companies growing, harvesting, and blending tobacco and hand making cigars in my favorite size and strength that will each have their own unique characteristics and taste. And if I let them age properly in my humidor, their taste will change over time.
So I’ll continue my ‘sampling’ with the objective of training my palate to become more receptive to the flavor tinges of each cigar I smoke. With any luck, I’ll become a better rater, but I’m certain I’ll most definitely enjoy the process.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gurkha G3 Review

I picked up a Gurkha G3 cigar last week during a visit to my local tobacco source because it was appropriately-sized (a 6 x 50 Toro), I’m a sucker for a Maduro wrapper, and it came with a warning on the box, “Please be seated when smoking this cigar; not for the amateur.” I have no prior experience with the Gurkha brand of cigars since they’ve earned a reputation as the “Rolls Royce” of the cigar industry [they offer an ultra premium “Black Dragon” that retails for about $1,150 a stick], but at a scanty $7.12 I thought the G3 was a reasonably priced extravagance for this smoker.

As this was a ‘new’ smoke for me, and because it came with a full-bodied caveat, I made it a point to be particularly attentive to the appearance and flavors of the cigar and offer my first official review of the experience.

The cigar was very well constructed with what I’ll describe as a beautiful, ebony-colored wrapper that was free of any noticeable blemishes. It lit easily, burned evenly, drew nicely, and the white-colored ash held on near perfectly. The cigar started out as I expected – woody and spicy – but one-third of the way into it the spiciness dropped off and I started noticing hints of cocoa. This was followed by a smooth, balanced finish to the end. In summary – it was a fine smoke with an interesting, although agreeable, taste.

Despite its claim as a power smoke, I thought it was amazingly smooth - never boring, bitter, or harsh. And I certainly wasn’t buzzed, so I’d say it would be more adequately described as a lively medium-bodied cigar that can be straightforwardly smoked while sitting or standing.

When I had finished smoking I went to check out a few of my favorite cigar blogs to see if any of them had rated this cigar. It was somewhat gratifying to read that there were several reviews with descriptions similar to mine about the flavors and characteristics of this smoke [Cigar Aficionado rated it an 88].

Turns out it’s the combination of an aged Nicaraguan sungrown wrapper, African Cameroon binder, and Nicaraguan Piloto Cubano and Ligero filler that gives the cigar its unique taste. I also learned that these Gurkha cigars are short run products, and when they’re gone, there won’t be any more G-3’s produced. Think I need to find a few more of these sticks for my humidor, so until next time . . . long ashes.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Faked Out

There’s little chance I’ll ever be dressed in an Alfred Dunn shirt, have on a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes, or sport a Panerai watch (I only know these fashionable products because I saw them mentioned in a magazine I subscribe to). In fact, I’m only able to speak knowledgeably about “brands” if they’re related to cigars, alcohol (excluding wine), or golf clubs. And, given the pervasiveness of counterfeit goods these days, I’m glad I don’t have an affinity for designer labels.

It’s fascinating to me how the counterfeiters are able to reproduce name-brand products with such remarkable detail that even the experts have difficulty telling the real deal from the imitation. Thanks largely to digital imaging, these forgers are able to reverse engineer nearly flawless knock-offs of almost anything. It’s fairly easy to replicate a label using a laser scanner, but some of these imitators have gotten so good that they’re even providing fake warranty cards and holograms too.

Of course there’s always some exacting detail(s) that distinguish the bogus product from the legitimate one, but companies are becoming reluctant to provide guidelines on how to tell the difference between their products versus the knock-offs because they know the phony manufacturers will use the information to improve their counterfeit.

Forgetting that counterfeiting accounts for billions of dollars in lost tax revenues and jobs, is responsible for the exploitation of children in factories and sweatshops, and the fact that many counterfeits serve as a primary source of funding for terrorist groups, some of their replications are downright impressive. [It always amazing to me all the energy, and even inventiveness, criminals sometimes exert in their illegal activities. Imagine if some of their ‘resourcefulness’ was directed toward legitimate enterprise?!]

So, given the occurrence of sham products (electronics, pharmaceuticals, clothes, accessories, etc.) and the difficulty of spotting fakes, about the only thing you can do to keep from getting ripped off is to buy from reputable sources. It truly is a ‘buyer beware’ marketplace nowadays.

In the cigar world, the allure of ‘smoking a Cuban’ is so strong it’s estimated that 90% of the so-called Cuban cigars sold are fake. Now I have little empathy for someone who thinks they can readily get hold of a box of Montecristo No. 2s – they’re just not available. Unfortunately, they’ll always be a guy who believes he can deceive someone with a $25 Tag Heuer.

I don’t mean for you to question the authenticity of your purchases, but as soon my game demands a new set of Callaways, you can be sure I won’t be buying them off of eBay or out of the back of some guy’s van. Sadly, it’ll probably be awhile before I need to make this purchase.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Client Nine

I’m not meaning to be one of the many who are seizing upon Gov. Spitzer’s disclosure for using a call-girl service to wallow in his misfortune, but do admit that his self-destructive behavior is entirely fascinating. Not in the sense that it is in any way attractive, just that the recklessness that results in such a human catastrophe directs my interest.

My guess is that this probably wasn’t a one-time thing and they’ll be additional disclosures about his extracurricular activities, along with the all too predictable book and movie deal for the prostitute(s) of the call-girl service he used – assuming she’s willing to make known to her mother that she hasn’t really been working in marketing.

All debauchery and dishonesty aside, I don’t understand how a public figure can believe that any of his extramural actions aren’t going to be exposed. Even if it’s something as absurd as watching reality television, someone is going to know and try to exploit it for their advantage. There are just too many aspects to this story that are absolutely outlandish to me. If you’re going to go about overtly promoting yourself as a pious champion of moral principles, shouldn’t you ‘walk the talk’?! How do you rationalize spending thousands of dollars in ONE night on ONE prostitute? Is money so immaterial to you? How can you call yourself the ‘people’s governor’ after you spent more in a few hours with your temptress than the majority of the people in your state take home in a month?

Your wife is an attractive, educated woman. I won’t suppose to conceive of what was or wasn’t happening between the both of you to cause you to believe you could make use of the Emperors Club without consequence. Do you make light that some of the late-night business you’ve been conducting hasn’t just been for the benefit of the state while suggesting she may want to go and get tested for STDs? Obviously you’ve got communication skills because I can’t for the life of me imagine what you could possibly have said to get her to appear with you in front of the cameras and reporters while you divulge you’ve been unfaithful with a whore? Perhaps she’s just focusing on a ‘mental picture’ of the check made out to her in the amount of ½ of your fortune?!

Your father spent millions of his own money to finance your gubernatorial campaign and had future aspirations for your political career, including the Presidency. How do you explain to him that you’ve just pissed away everything he’s orchestrated and paid for?

Worst of all you have three daughters and I can’t envision how you account for your conduct with a call-girl to them. I’m a pretty good analyzer yet I can’t make any sense out of his trouble . . . but it is simply fascinating!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Politically inappropriate

An awkward casualty of nannyism is that it’s made the phrase “trophy wife” meaningless – alright, perhaps not completely irrelevant, but certainly subject to misinterpretation. Before political correctness ran amuck and we developed an unremitting need to make kids feel good about themselves, trophies used to be awarded for real accomplishment - winning was meaningful.
Today, successful parenting apparently requires unwarranted pampering of children in order to eliminate the experience of failure from their lives. The result? Rooms full of ‘participation awards’, not to mention an entire generation of self-satisfied mollycoddles.
So no longer can it be taken for granted when one man says, “he’s got a trophy wife” that he’s being complementary about the other man’s achievement by getting hold of an especially younger, and typically more attractive, wife. Now, thanks to nannyism, chauvinistic jealousy can no longer be presumed. This phrase may actually be meant to mock or ridicule – “Sure he’s got a trophy wife . . . it’s just not first place!”
I suspect it’s probably still a safe bet to infer that a woman still equates “trophy wife” with contemptuous gold-digger.

Amusing Quote for today from the Anti-Nannier