Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Got Towed, Drank, Danced a Little ...

Not gonna elaborate so much, but I had to call the tow boat recently. Luckily, I'd bought unlimited towing insurance for $125 and got $1100 of towing when my motor conked out. While being dragged home, I got drunk and listened to Dubstep.
video video

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hello? Anyone Up For a China Rant?

This is essentially a dead blog, but I was browsing through it for nostalgia just now because I'm homesick (and a little drunk) in a hotel in Asia, and -- I have no false modesty -- I've had some pretty good posts on this thing. So below is a cut-and-paste from my friend Dan's FaceBook page. Dan liked an email I'd sent him while in China last week so much that he re-posted it with this preface:

(Dan): "Read this incredibly good rant from my friend who is on a business trip in China. This friend travels to Asia all the time. This person has been to amazing places and seen amazing things and loves nothing more than to become immersed in strange food and drink and culture. But this friend has some issues with China. I got this email this morning. It's insightful and interesting and detailed. It's also an awesome double-barreled unloading from a person who sounds tired and cranky and unimpressed. It's funny. My friend gave me permission to share it (after I begged), on the condition that my friend remain anonymous. So please, if you know this person, don't type this person's name in the comments."

(Lonnie Bruner): "Not a fan of China. I've been here before, and a lot of the
culture is like the rest of Asia, but a bit amped up in parts, with
many of the good elements stripped out.

All this week I've been eating the regular Chinese fare of chopped cow
stomach, jellyfish with chili peppers, greasy pork with an inch of fat
on top of slimy clear noodles (nearly all food manages to contain some
part of a pig), steamed celery, carp (mouth agape) in an inch of brown
sauce, and 106-proof Chinese rotgut to wash it down. Often there's a
whole chicken (I really mean "whole" in a literal sense -- includes
head and feet) that looks like someone boiled it and then ripped it
apart with their bare hands and angrily threw it down on a serving
plate -- without sauce.

The pressure to drink and drink and drink is obnoxious. I mean, they
toast back to back and drink like every 4 minutes and pressure you
more if you try and refuse (after accepting like 6 straight shots of
53% alcohol that tastes like public restroom cleaner. Not kidding).
They just bring in hard liquor to any restaurant, sit the bottles
(always bottle*s*, plural) on the table, and serve themselves -- and
they do. It's fucking annoying as hell, and I need to vent a bit.
Also, everyone smokes. Everyone. And they don't open windows in the
room while smoking. So you're trying to grin and bear it in a hot
sealed-up room and eat this fucking shit food while your eyes are
literally burning from the smoke in the room. And after a while, I
just refuse to drink, along with XXXX, my distributor (he's Taiwanese
and confided that he hates the way Chinese drink). And a couple of the
guys polish off over 750ml of this liquor EACH. They have to be
carried out of the restaurant. Apparently, these guys do this nightly.
It's just common as hell, I'm told, because basically every male I saw
in the evening was falling down drunk (Tuesday night btw). Fuck them.

Another thing -- it's hot as fuck here and they serve you HOT WATER in
a plastic cup when you sit down for a meeting during the daytime. I
mean, what the fuck. Seriously, hot water. I mean, sometimes it's
actually got a couple of sprigs of green tea it in, but 8 times out of
10 it's just plain hot water in a cheap plastic cup that's basically
melting when you pick it up.

And the country is so god damn soulless. It's just endless mile after
mile of 10-lane brand new highways and nuclear stacks and blocky
skyscraper apartment buildings and cranes and pollution haze. There's
nothing aesthetic about any of the China I've seen. It's like an
entire population could give a damn about making anything look
pleasing to the eye. I mean, places like Thailand or Vietnam I'm often
struck by how beautiful things are -- landscaping, mountains, vistas,
art. China -- none of that. It's just heavy industry and cranes and
half-finished buildings as far as the eye can see. And it's all
fucking flat pretty much! Shit, even the clouds are ugly because
they're covered up by the pollution haze. This pollution haze is
really a phenomenon that has to be seen to believe. You can't imagine.
The entire country is covered in a yellowish/whitish haze; you can
drive for 500 miles and it's still there, everywhere. Maybe 1,000
miles, I bet.

Anyway, rant over. I feel better now. Thanks for listening. Hopefully
I'll find something redeeming. Oh wait, here's something cool: our
afternoon meeting was cancelled so we went to the Shaolin Temples
where Kung Fu was created. That was pretty cool.

Best,
LB

ps: and the fucking government has blocked all the internet stuff that
makes life a little more bearable (ie, facebook and porno)."

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Cat Shit Coffee

I've been to Indonesia half a dozen times and it's the only country I've been to where the food is consistently terrible. During my current trip, I was given at least two meals that actually made me angry. After one bite of the oxtail soup, I felt like grabbing the entire bowl and throwing it as hard as I could against the wall. Who the fuck likes to fight with grisly bony gritty chunks of flavorless meat in their soup? And at a recent dinner, they fed us this horribly bony duck which was literally all skin and bones -- just a big plate of bones. See, that's the thing with bad food in Asia; it's bad mostly because it's full of mouth-tearing bones or tough meat so your meal feels like a battle.

But what I had a few days ago was another type of annoying food: the gimmick. I'm talking about civet cat coffee, or called locally, "kopi luwak". I've known about civet coffee which I've always thought was stupid as shit and had no interest in seeking it out. This is a type of coffee made from coffee beans that have been eaten by a type of wild cat that lives in the mountains of Indonesia. The idea is that the beans are partially digested and then shit out, which makes for a smoother, less bitter coffee which can sell for up to $350 a pound. But I call bullshit on the whole thing. It's just a gimmick, and Asians love their gimmicks when it comes to food. Sadly, many of the gimmicks involve abuse of animals like drinking rice wine in Vietnam with a still-beating cobra heart in it, or eating a live octopus in Korea. But at least these cats only get their shit taken from them. The joke is really on the people.

So, some back story. I've been sick with an infected wisdom tooth the entire time I've been in Indonesia. During the first part of the week, I had a fever for four days. But I still had to work, so we drove around through the most dangerous driving conditions imaginable. I always sit in the back seat so I don't have to witness my near-demise every 30 minutes. On the way to the meeting on our 6 hour drive, I saw a flipped car with glass scattered all over the place. Off to the side, was the dead driver sprawled out on the highway with blood covering his face. This is also the kind of thing that makes you feel less safe.

We arrive at the meeting, and I meet with one of the coffee growers who I give a sales pitch to. He starts telling me that he's the head of the local farmers' association and also is involved in making civet coffee. I'm intrigued. I ask if we can see the cats, and he says we can after lunch. So lunch comes, and it's the usual completely inedible Indonesian crap. I ask for a bowl of vegetable soup, but it still tastes like the oxtail soup I'd had before. Anyway, I head to the bathroom and immediately projectile vomit it back out. After I recover slightly, I head back into the restaurant, and I shit you not, they had this cat shit coffee waiting for me, just steaming there in the cup. So basically, after I'd just hurled out their awful food, they literally force me to drink something that came out of a wild animal's ass. Just unbelievable.

After lunch and our meetings, I still have a fever and all I want to do is go home. But I'd asked to see these fucking cats, so off we go. We pull up to this building way up in the green mountains in a driving rain storm. I enter the building and we're met by a guy filming me with a professional video camera. What the fuck is this. Anyway, I try and ignore it, but as we walk in, the room is full of all these people, including a woman who looked like a model. We sit around and chit chat, and then they take us to the cat cages.

So these cats are hiding in these wooden boxes covered by burlap. They're nocturnal animals so they have to hide. They bring out the food which comes from a massive tub of writhing live eels which they throw to these cats who just snap them down their gullets as the eel twists and turns in the cat's mouth. They're also offering the cats dead crabs. Apparently, this is their sustenance and they give them the coffee beans once a day.

It felt surreal, yet annoying. It was amusing, but since I had this fever, I really just wanted to get back in the fucking car and go to the hotel. I didn't feel like dealing with this crazy third world bullshit. But the people who ran the cat shit coffee place had other plans ...

As we head back outside, the video camera is still obviously interested in filming me. They guide me out into the rain where the coffee plants are growing so I can give a testimonial about how great their kopi luwak is -- mind you, I have a fever, and they've now just pushed me into the driving rain to get free video footage of me saying how great their coffee is. They had not asked my permission to do this. But they are customers, so I oblige.

Then, they walk me over to these trays of the collected pieces of cat shit packed full of these coffee beans. It's swarming with flies. They make me kneel down in front of all this stinking coffee bean cat shit, look into the video camera, and say, "Coffee Luwak BAGUS!!" (Coffee Luwak is GOOOD!).

This would have been pretty funny, but I had a really uncomfortable fever and all this weird poor country bullshit has just gotten old to me. Twice a day in this place, I think, 'All you fucking people are totally INSANE.'

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Secret Apartment

I have a reoccurring dream that during times when I need to be alone, I escape my house and drive across the city into one of the dirtier parts of town, and unlock my own tiny rented apartment -- just a getaway apartment that I only visit no more than twice a month, that the wife doesn't know about and I only tell a select group of friends when some whiskey needs to be consumed, or Apocalypse Now needs to be watched outside of the presence of children or women.

I wonder if other people have this fantasy. Of course, I couldn't afford such a place, and really wouldn't want it ... or could I? or would I?

Then I realize that I actually have such an apartment. Granted, it's not a secret place, but I do have it -- and it's cheap as hell, in fact it's only $1600 per year in rent. Not only is it cheap, but it's waterfront property. Ok, it's tiny and cramped, and the lighting in the apartment runs off two golf cart batteries, but hey, it's always stocked with decent whiskey and has a working toilet and sink.

What is this place? It's my sailboat.

Man, it's this type of re-occurring dream that makes me so glad I have it. I mean, it's essentially a tiny waterfront apartment that's cheap as hell and is the perfect getaway. I'm surprised more people don't just get a beat-up boat that they can hang out at as a cheap getaway waterfront apartment.

And it's mobile and (mostly) powered by free energy.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Ok, I'll Play Some Guitar for You

I spent last weekend sailing my boat with two good friends.

We left at 9pm on Friday and ended up at Tilghman Creek on Saturday at 4am. Strangely, we didn't pass out at the moment of anchorage, but chatted and drank under lamplight until the early morning about sex and US defaults.

That sail across was nice though. 18 knots starting out, then 12 knots fighting us to get down the Bay. Beating the whole way. My new spotlight was getting dim (my fault). But God, you desk-job people could learn a lot from this. I'd love to have you onboard.

We ended up at our spot late

The next day, while anchored, bored, nothing to do all day, and smoking honey-and-spice flavored tobacco from a hookah (I promise it's not weed), Dan recorded me aggressively beating on a guitar that Chris D. bought for $20 two years ago. Here's the video onboard my sailboat.

Basic playing on my part, but this is the way I have played guitar for like 10 years. It just relaxes me.


Saturday, July 02, 2011

I'm pretty sure I just went to the best sushi restaurant of my life.

Well, I failed in getting Lady GaGa to have a beer with me. She just arrived in Taipei, where I am right now, waiting for the flight out tomorrow to Jakarta on business. Hey, I'd much rather sit for 40 hours in a hotel in Taipei than Jakarta. Trust me, I've spent time in Jakarta several times before.

Anyway, Ms. GaGa had posted her usual pretentious update on Facebook that she was in Taiwan and I asked if she wanted to meet me for a beer in the comments section. Having no response, I googled for a place for sushi here in Taipei and I had a true Internet-Is-Fucking-Awesome moment.

This isn't much of a story, really, but two minutes of Google searching found this recommendation on the Internet of where to eat sushi in Taipei.

There's no way I could've found such a place without my basic Internet skills. First, the front door had no English written on it. I checked that above random girl's blog and it had a picture of the front door which led me to the sushi:



I've decided I don't put pictures of food on the internet anymore but I will tell you, this shit was amazing. First off, I felt great, because being a White Person, I was the only White Person in the establishment. That made me feel all superior and what not.

And it was one of those sushi places where they bring out the food each individual piece at a time. The chef literally just lowers down a piece or two of sushi at a time onto a dry banana leaf. Occasionally, the chef shouted at me "NO SAUCE!" as he set the piece on my leaf, indicating that I wasn't supposed to dip it in soy or wasabi. Gotta love a restaurant that has such strict rules that they aren't afraid to shout them at your face.

And the only person in the joint that spoke English was the Phillipino dishwasher who treated me great and fully deserved the $40 tip I gave him.

Anyway, if you're ever stuck in Taipei for a day and a Saturday night, go to Niu Sushi, 150 Xinsheng North Road, Section 1, Taipei - 中山區新生北路一段150號 - 2542-9978

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Pinnacle of Sport Fishing: Catching a Blue Marlin

One drawback of living in DC is that lots of people here don't appreciate stories about catching fish, especially rare and legendary sport fish. In my opinion, the proper response to 'We caught a 9.5-foot blue marlin this past weekend' should be 'holy fucking shit, you what??' -- not the reaction I typically get around here which is more like the response you should expect if someone told you they chose the tilapia over the flounder last night at Red Lobster.

But there are a few people around here who appreciate a good man-versus-beast story and one like what happened recently to me is worth writing down for posterity.

Until this past Saturday, I'd never gone fishing for blue marlin. And until this past Saturday, I'd never experienced fishing at the height of its possibilities.

Barely able to our put our feet from the bed to the floor, waking up at 3:45am, my group of friends crawled out of a dirty Motel 6 in Norfolk, Virginia into our car for a four-hour boat ride to the fishing spot.

Calling this place a "Motel" is a compliment. A more accurate description is a freelance brothel where some of the rooms smelled like an orgy took place some time in the previous 100 hours. Nothing much in this world makes you want to sleep less than the smell of a two-day-old orgy having occurred underneath where you lie. God, I wish I was exaggerating. One guy in our group brought his own towels and sheets, having stayed there before.

With me on this fishing trip are: Colin, my brother-of-a-friend whom I've known since third grade; Brian, an affable Irishman from Belfast with a shapely belly and big personality who has a since-childhood obsession of catching a blue marlin; Rusty, a likable fellow on the quiet side, who owns a fireplace-and-grill business in Virginia; and Mike, a fun-ass unedited joke-cracker who's got seven kids and an early-model Chevy with serious fuel digestion problems.

Every time we head out fishing the group vows to take it easy and go to bed early. That didn't happen on this trip either. So most of us hit our filthy beds at near 2am after killing a bottle of tawny port and Sambuca that Brian grabbed from his home liquor cabinet on the way out.

That night we vowed that we'd pass the rod to Brian if there was a blue marlin hooked the next day. It was his lifetime dream to catch one, and if you could see the gleam in his eye when he talked about wanting to catch one, I imagined this must've been the type of zeal that drove Hemingway to catch 20 marlin per month off Cuba in the 1930s. Brian has traveled the globe in an Ahab-like pursuit of a blue marlin and spent more money on it than I think he'd want me to reveal on a public blog.

The captain of our fishing boat drove us over four hours off Norfolk until we were trolling in 500 to 1000 feet of water off the continental shelf. We had all the lines in by 8:15am, trolling 8 rods and two teasers.

A teaser is a hookless chain of fake orange squid that makes lots of splashing. They're used to draw the marlin up from the depths. Once the fish is near the teasers, it usually peels off and hits one of the hooks and the fight begins.

And at around 10:00am, that's exactly what happened.

Brian was fully spread out on the boat's couch at 10:00am in a state of half-seasickness and half-hangover. Rusty was lying face down on the salon floor carpet after puking most of the ride out. Mike was trying to sleep in the chair, baseball cap pulled over his eyes, but every once in a while when the boat rolled, he'd be thrown violently onto the floor in a chaotic toppling event. And Colin and I were just watching those lines from the back deck, waiting -- the excitement had pushed our tiredness into some dusty corner of our skulls.

Then, in a bellow that cracked through the drone of the twin diesels and the snoozing, the captain shouted from the top deck -- "MARLIN ON THE PORT TEASER!! MARLIN ON THE PORT TEASER!!"

I looked back and there it was, not 20 yards off the back of the boat -- a big blue dorsal fin trailing the teasers. And that's when the true skill of our Mate and Captain went into full gear.

It's worth saying here that catching a blue marlin is not easy. Some people pursue this prize fish half their lives and catch nothing -- having spent tens of thousands all for nothing. Some people pursue this prize fish half their lives only to watch one nearly take their hook, but lose it due to the inexperience or bad luck by Mate and/or Captain. And if a blue marlin is checking out the teaser you're trolling, trust me, you want a Mate and Captain like ours.

I've never seen fishing like this. Our Mate Fred jumped into gear, grabbing the transom-mounted rod, trying to lure the marlin away from the teaser. Captain Mike maneuvered the boat into place and reeled up the teaser so the marlin would lose interest in it.

All this time everyone onboard is shouting and yelling and chaos is rampant. The boat pitches and rolls. Brian is falling and tripping out of the couch onto the deck and into the fighting chair. He's still barefooted and if I'd looked, there was probably crusty drool stuck to his face.

The mood change onboard was as distinct as a lightning strike.

Fred's rod bent over fast and we heard that distinctive beautiful fast ZIZZZZZZ of 50-pound test monofilament line peeling off the bowling-ball-sized reel at high speed. The fucker was hooked!

Then, in a second later, Fred's rod loses its curve and he's cursing that he's lost it. FUCK! And here's where the experience factor plays in -- Fred didn't even pause; he just grabs the second rod off the transom and starts playing the lure, trying to draw in the leviathan.

Our anxiety and head-spinning adrenaline rush had come to a confusing low point when we thought the marlin had spit the hook on Fred's rod, but not a minute later, and Fred had the beast hooked on the second rod. He set the hook hard, and then the reel just started screaming as Colin and Fred steered the butt of the rod into the fighting chair and Brian started one of the most exhausting fights of his life.

Most fishing in my life has not been an athletic feat. Maybe when I caught a small hammerhead shark in Hitlon Head as a kid -- that was tiring. Or even a few sand sharks and rockfish and barracuda I've caught along the way have been enough to break a sweat and work my biceps. But watching Brian battle to reel in this blue marlin was painful -- even witnessing it tired me out.

This marlin ran off the boat nearly 400 yards and then began to jump and thrash about in the water as we all watched in awe and shouted at Brian to REEL REEL REEL REEL. REEL MOTHERFUCKER REEL.

That's the thing about the fight to haul in a blue marlin -- all that shouting and screaming and sweating and waves splashing over the transom and saltwater in your eyes and chaos as the captain puts the boat in reverse. It's like some kind of spontaneous desperate celebration that hurts your vocal chords.

Brian fought that son-of-bitch for thirty minutes and at one point we thought that reel would get smoked. After the initial run, the marlin nearly finished the spool of line. Through the skilled reverse engines, the captain prevented that, thank God. But damn, after that first 20 minutes, I was wondering if Brian could do it. I was wondering if anyone onboard could do it.

The marlin dove deep into the 100 fathoms beneath us and we couldn't see him for a while. There were times when the drag was just stuck and any amount of Brian's reeling was useless. Then after a while, the fish tired and we could see the long flash of its body rise up from the depths. As it got closer to the boat, I had to spin Brian in the fighting chair into position. Fred had the rod bent over his right shoulder as he made sure the fish came up properly.

Through some deft boat positioning, the captain made sure the prop didn't cut the line and Fred put on gloves to grab the marlin by the bill and de-hook and release it, and we watched it drift and then swim away gracefully.

Marlin fishing is a bit like an arm-wrestling contest with a true bad-ass and (usually) neither party gets killed.

It was just unbelievable. All of use were coming off an adrenaline high and half panting and half laughing. I looked over at Brian, covered in sweat, breathing, smiling and just saying YESSSS, YESSS over and over. The mother fucker was in tears, man. In TEARS.

Here's Brian reeling in slack after the boat had reversed for a while:


Here's Brian as he starts to tire:


Here's the fish as the Mate de-hooks and releases it. The blue marlin was estimated at 9.5 feet in length and 275 pounds:


And of course the guy who catches the blue marlin always gets pushed in by the crew:








Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bars in India: Like 100 Years Ago in the USA

I'm in India for the third time in my life, trying to get more business going. My company has been exporting to India for four years now with mild success.

One thing that's interesting about India (among millions of things) is the bar situation. You see, the bars here are like I imagine bars were in the USA one hundred years ago -- hidden away, with entrances in the alley or in some dingy corner, dark and smokey, poorly air-conditioned and humid, no music, sometimes barely lit (or lit with a red light bulb), serving one type of beer and two types of whiskey, no mixed drinks (except water + liquor), and most importantly, no women are allowed.

Ok, it's true that in rare cases in some of the more cosmopolitan cities in India (or in tourist spots -- which is totally different from what I'm talking about), a wife or girlfriend may enter a bar and not be kicked out. But this is REALLY rare for Indians.

In India, bars are places for men to drink and talk, and that's that. It really changes the feel of the bar too, and not just for the decor, which is always bare bones and ratty looking. It tends to be nasty in Indian bars, where the patrons are quite rude to the staff and often yell at them -- "BOY!! BEER, BEER! QUICK!". I noticed they even call grown men "boy" when they're serving beer and liquor. The food is usually just salted peanuts and nothing else. There's just Kingfisher beer, and Teacher's scotch, with maybe some rot gut Indian brands that you don't want to even sniff at.

Having females in bars really changes the mood. In short, men tend to behave more when women are around, especially the way that the men talk to the staff. I haven't seen any bad drunkenness episodes, but it has to occur, despite India not being much of a drinking culture.

I'm curious anyone else's experiences with drinking in India.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Atlantic Rockfishing

Here's a video of a recent fishing trip 6 of us took out of Norfolk VA in the Atlantic Ocean. Right now, you cannot keep rockfish caught in the Chesapeake Bay, but you can in the ocean. We caught 7 fish between 35-inches and 40-inches.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

They Hauled My Next-Door Neighbor Away in an Ambulance -- A Monthly Occurance

My neighbor gets carted away in an ambulance every month. And his sickness is drinking too fucking much, not lupus or cancer.

This is the guy I wrote about in July 2009 who side-swiped up a bunch of parked cars while on taxi duty. Since then, he's gotten his license suspended and thank god for it. Like his brother (whom I also wrote about), he's on the end of the road toward death, I'm afraid.

I'm not 100% certain what causes the ambulance to get called, but I have a theory:

This old alkie lives with his 95-year-old mother who has regular in-home nursing care (and dementia). So the old boozer drinks all night and passes out in the bathroom and is there by morning time when the nurses are changing shifts. I think they have to go to the bathroom, and find him passed out over the toilet so they just call 911. Hence, the usual ambulance outside my door every month.

You Better Believe I'll Be Cooking Hasenpfeffer When the Wife's Gone

My lady is taking my boy to Michigan to see my in-laws this weekend. That type of weekend is rare, and a call to go on the sailboat, have the guys over for some drankin', or cook some meat that the wife never would allow in the house. And see, my woman considers rabbit to be in the "cute" species category (along with pigs -- huh??) so we don't eat it together -- ever.

So this Friday -- alone or with whomever -- I plan on cooking a whole rabbit. And I've never attempted to cook rabbit.

A Google search slowed my excitement because lots of rabbit recipes are frilly fussy pretentious affairs, requiring all sorts of Frenchie-Frencherton bullshit like a bouquet garnis, and what-such nonsense. I'm sorry, but I'm not cooking something that requires me to create a bouquet out of my food.

That's why I was so god damn glad that I found multiple recipes for German Hasenpfeffer -- a simple stew with whole rabbit, dark red wine, thick-cut bacon, carrots, pepper, onions, and more. Really, whatever I feel like eating, throw it in the stew.

A family needs time away like these to do the things he or she wouldn't normally do.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chickass. We really need more of 'em.

I just spotted this banner outside a clothing store a few blocks from my house. Love it:



It's supposed to be a play-on of the Spanish word for girls, "chicas". What I also appreciate about this sign, and Latino culture in general, is that they appreciate a woman that really looks like a woman, front to back -- none of this bullshit starved-assless-pale-vegan-waif nonsense like you see in the media so much in the USA. In Colombia, no way. Check out the fine fine junk-in-the-trunk of that female in the picture on the left; red beans and rice didn't miss her. YES PLEASE THANK YOU.

I Dislike Most Non-Top-40 Rock Nowadays ... that is, Except One Old DC Band

My go-to station now is Hot 99.5 FM (DC). That's just the state of my music today. And I have 'No Apologies' (as Curt Kobain said).

Hey, if whiny-vegan-richboy-rock were actually good as it stands today, I'd like it. But it isn't, mostly, so I don't. Hence, 99.5 FM is on the quick-button in my Toyota Echo.

I'd rather listen to Ke$ha. Or Mike Posner. Or Katie Perry (at least for that Sesame Street cleavage) or Lady GaGa. Or whatever's fun, not boring. At least it doesn't hurt and try-so-hard for nostalgia and it has a steady beat that's danceable.

But there is one indie rock band that still holds it for me, I admit. And it just can't get old, and none of that Top 40 crap can hold a candle to it.

And that band is Fugazi -- from DC, Arlington, Virginia. You may think this is pretentious ... until you listen to a song:



Man, listen to them bend those Gibson SGs, damn. And now I feel sad and miss the 1990s.

FUCK POACHERS

Poachers of Chesapeake Striped Bass are destroying the Bay. Shawn Kimbro has an eloquent post describing this shit.

'Pure Arctic Wind' Soundtrack Mixes Well with a Classic Sailing Novel

For two years my friend Jason has been patiently reminding me that to be a true sailor I should *fucking read* Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brien. And on a whim this past weekend, Greg brought the book over to adorn the bookshelf of my man cave.

To gear up for my first reading of Master & Commander, I bought an MP3 on amazon.com called "Pure Arctic Wind". It's one hour and fourteen minutes of very authentic-sounding wind, with enough low end bass to convince. I'd been browsing the MP3 section on amazon.com for sound effects tracks that perfectly capture the sound of being holed up belowdecks of a ship while a howling storm rages out of doors. Most of the tracks you find online are clearly synthetic wind noises, created probably by some jackass waving a tube around in the air in a studio to make the whistling sound of cold wind at night. But finally I found the above track, and it's just excellent.

My Process to prepare for reading Master & Commander: I go down into my basement bar and turn the lights down low and close the window. I turn up the subwoofer to 'full' and put the Pure Arctic Wind track on repeat. It's important to adjust the volume so it sounds as if a storm is truly blowing outside the window. You're not trying to make it sound like the storm is blowing inside the fucking bar, man -- just enough to make you sort of believe you're in siege mode, safe inside a warm ship's bar, while danger and uncertainly swirl outside. So volume is crucial. Put the volume on -55 db (not sure how you can have negative decibels, but ok Yamaha) -- that's pretty quiet, if you don't know. The stereo has an enhancer which completes the effect; I choose "Hall in Vienna" for the right reverb effect.

And so begins my dive into the book Master & Commander. I suppose you don't fully believe that I'm going to finish the damn book, considering that I'm blogging about reading it rather than actually reading it. Well, believe what you want.

New Poster for the Basement Bar

One thing I love about having a basement bar that all my friends love is that they often bring me little gifts to adorn the walls or add to the bottle collection. And recently my friend Rachel bought me this poster for one dollar at a thrift store in Philly. What a score!



The year listed on the back of the poster says 1966. Nineteen Sixty Six! And I love this style of drawing; it reminds me of the old fish guides I used to study endlessly when I was a kid, trying to memorize the max weight and length of each species of fish that haunted various parts of North America. And now I have all these guys -- from the Alligator Gar to the Bluefin Tuna -- to look at every night that I'm home and holed up down in the man cave.

The Right Way to Make a Martini (ADDENDUM)

I never thought this would happen in 20 years, but I have to make a major revision to my original 'The Right Way to Make a Martini (The Long Version)' that I posted last June.

Reason: my good friend Derek Brown, whom the Wall Street Journal almost called the Best Bartender in the Nation, has finally constructed a gin martini based on a talented knowledge of mixological history and cocktail flavor balance that I will dare to call The Best Martini on Planet Earth. It is truly incredible, and surprisingly, very easy to make.

But first, my recipe (ok, really not mine, but the one I promoted), which I described in June's blog post, was this:
- 1/2 oz Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth (stored in fridge)
- 1 1/2 oz Beefeater Gin (stored at room temperature)
- 1 Dash Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6

Stir with cubed ice for at least 45 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garish with 2 olives, lemon peel, or pickled onion, depending on your mood.
But Derek's recipe, which is truly genius (and I almost never use the word genius) is this:
- 1 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth (stored in fridge)
- 1 oz Tanqueray 10 (stored in the freezer)
- 1 Dash of 50/50 pre-mix of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 and The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters

Stir with cubed ice for at least 45 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Cut a wide swath of lemon peel (without the pith). Twist peel over the edge of the glass (but not directly over the liquid), letting a bit of the lemon oils fall onto the drink. Discard lemon peel into the trash, ie, not putting it into the cocktail.
The result is one of the most perfectly balanced and unique flavors I've tasted. It really tastes like nothing else. It's colder Derek's way because the gin is stored in the freezer. Since Dolin is lighter than Martini & Rossi, you need to do a 50/50 (vermouth/gin) mixture. However, if you do a 50/50 mix with Dolin and Beefeater, the gin can't stand up to the vermouth because Beefeater has a lighter juniper-based botanical profile and the result is an overly vermouthy mixture. The choice of Tanqueray 10 is perfect because it tastes richer and slightly more citrusy than Beefeater. Of course, the orange bitters combo is perfect because Regan's tends to be more bitter than The Bitter Truth so they keep each other in check. Keeping the gin in the freezer reduces the amount of ice that gets melted when you stir the ingredients so it's a tighter, cleaner texture in the mouth -- nice and taut across the surface of the cold liquid, too. Putting the lemon peel into the drink over-powers the cocktail with lemonyness and masks all the other subtle qualities, so just throwing it away is best.

It's so simple but so perfect. Try it.

A New Note From Iran, Plus My Rambling Thoughts

I recently emailed my business associate in Iran, Ali, to see how he's doing during the latest anti-government protests in Iran. I am concerned, because in December 2009, he was shot in the face by Iranian police during a protest in Tehran and lost his vision as a result. We had not spoken much about politics, but since he's a dissident against the Iranian government and does business with an American company, I am certain he is on some government blacklist and may be the target of round-ups, jailing or interrogation. I am sure there are many others in Iran like Ali, considering that the NY Times recently reported that around 4,000 American companies do business in Iran (we are forbidden by US law, of course, to have any dealings with Iranian government-owned banks, freight companies, distributors, etc).

Below is the email Ali sent me today after my inquiry. I found it inspiring, especially since this fight for democracy and freedom is not happening in the text of a school book, or pontificated about by western pundits who have no experience with what it takes to bring down a bad government, and the real dangers and risks to health and life that that entails.

Mind you, Ali wrote this email with some kind of special audio program or personal assistance because he has lost the use of his eyes as a direct results of his political beliefs and actions:

"Dear (Lonnie)

I’m very pleased to hear that you as a friend and human being are concerned about your friends and the other people living in the other parts of the world, since just sharp and kind people have this kind of attitude. I'm really happy to have such a friend in a big country named America.

Considering the recent news in Iran, I have to say that aware people who want to establish a democratic and liberal government in Iran are trying to get this goal without making any disturbance in the society since they have had the experience of 1979 revolution and are now well-informed. Of course, the present governors, or better to say dictators, with their theological, fanatic and fascism ideas are a big obstacle for the people to get their ideals. They use the worst possible behavior, in another word disturbance, torture and murder in response to people’s questions and demands.

Hope that Iranian people who have experienced 1979 revolution can achieve their goals and have a government who is selected with the true votes of the people; a democratic - not theocratic - government, and also having aware, liberate, and happy people worldwide.

Thanks again for your kind feelings.

Best regards,

Ali"

I feel proud to know Ali and do business with him. These are the kinds of people who need to be strengthened and given support -- even if it's something as small as an email saying that people around the world are watching and give our solidarity.

In my experience doing business in various countries, the view of America is a very good one. We do a lot of business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, etc., and in all of these places we proudly tell people we are from the United States and the response is always positive, with comments that the US is a "great country". The opinion that you hear so often in the US that people in other countries "hate us", in my experience, is complete and utter bullshit. And we did business with the largest Muslim country on earth (Indonesia) all through Bush's presidency.

What happened in Egypt and continues in Iran is not dissimilar from what started in Tiananmen Square in 1989 (recall that those students erected a mock Statue of Liberty). Some of these realities may even sound cliche, but these folks generally do look to the USA as an ideal to be achieved, despite all our imperfections. Even though the people may not have the USA specifically in mind, the want of freedom and democracy is a natural human desire, not just unique to western countries. Ali's email above is just one example. And in my opinion, US programs that allow Iranians to have direct contact and sales with American businessmen only strengthen civil society and those who battle for liberty against the worst odds and do not give up -- even after being shot in the god damn FACE by government thugs.

The worst course for US policy would be to cut off these heroes from all foreign contact, so you end up with a place like North Korea which is nearly hermetically sealed from the outside world and the population is so brainwashed and subservient that they believe and parrot the government's lies, and any popular opposition is non-existent and highly unlikely any time in the foreseeable future. How sad that would be.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Blue Blazer

My latest favorite cocktail to make at my home bar is the Blue Blazer -- a cocktail that dates back to the famous 19th century bartender, Jerry Thomas. He created it in the early 1860s.

According to David Wondrich's book Imbibe!, the story of the creation of the Blue Blazer started when a "bewhiskered giant, laden with gold lust, with three layers of pistols strapped around his middle" stomped into the bar, and shouted, "Barkeep! ... Fix me up some hell-fire that'll shake me right down to my gizzard."

The barkeep then proceeded to mix up some high-proof scotch with boiling water in a silver mug, and proceeded to pour the flaming mixture back and forth between each mug "with a rapidity and dexterity that were well nigh unbelieveable."

And it's fun as shit to make. Here's a video of me making one down in my basement.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Most Americans are Fucking Clueless About How Close We Were to Total Collapse

I still think most Americans are clueless about how close we were to the edge of a cliff after Lehman collapsed. You really see this in the worst way especially when you talk to "libertarians" or those who think capitalism is a perfect or nearly perfect system.

The Fed has released an enormous amount of data today. The NYT has summarized it here. Everyone should fucking read this article. If you don't understand it, you should read it twice. If you still don't understand it, you should keep reading until you do or go buy a textbook on economics and read the article again.

What this information reveals is what people like Warren Buffet and other major investors who know how the fuck the world actually works have been saying for over two years.

Professor Ben Bernanke, a genius Jewish guy from South Carolina and scholar on the Great Depression from Princeton, saved the US and world economies from total collapse. There really is no question about that fact now and if you think otherwise you are just simply wrong.

You may think that's an exaggerated statement, but it clearly is not -- considering we now know from these recently released documents that after Lehman Brothers collapsed, everything was about to go to near total shit.

And damn, any libertarians you talk to wish that would have happened. Libertarians want pain. They want 30%+ unemployment. This is all part of the "natural" workings of the capitalist system for libertarians. They see any central bank or other government intervention as a moral problem primarily. We Keynesians see it as a practical issue when government does what Bernanke did.

This man saved millions of people's lives from descending into misery for many years. He should get the god damn Nobel Prize.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Cuba: Sending the Cockerel Off to Valhalla, or Wherever Annoying Creatures Go To.

There's an email exchange going back and forth with some people I work with about this article on "urban agriculture" in Cuba.

Thank Christ one of the guys on the email list (an old Brit) actually lived and worked in Cuba in the 1980s and promptly dispelled the common American Leftie myth about how Cuba is a paradise.
"My wife and I lived in Cuba from 1985 to 1988. I returned several times afterward, for business trips, and to get our old maid out. In May 1987 our younger daughter was born ... in Texas. (Infant mortality in Cuba, for the "foreign" community, was 35%. Parents were never given the bodies of their dead infants. Hence my wife flew to San Antonio to deliver our daughter. Her leaving Cuba, to go to Texas, heavily pregnant, is a story in itself.)

The much vaunted Cuban medical system was a disgrace. Still is. It simply did not work at all. I know that from personal experience. We took my daughter to Cuba when she was two weeks old. On our way back to Cuba, in Mexico City airport, the stupid clod at the Mexicana Airlines check-in desk told me that our daughter would not be allowed to go to Cuba because - get this - she didn't have a work permit. Can you believe that? The fact that she was 14 days old made no difference to him. I asked him to tell me what kind of work did he think she was going to do. That really got up his nose.

Much heated arguing later, I took our little girl from my wife, and passed her to the idiot check-in man and said, "You are now the proud owner of a brand-new baby girl. Here is her passport. We have to catch the flight. Goodbye." My wife, of course, was frozen speechless in horror. So was the clod. He swiftly passed Alex back to me and said, "She can go, but don't ever do this again."

We were classed as Diplomats, which meant that we had very distinctive plates on our car. We also had the right to shop in the "Diplomercado," or Diplomats' supermarket. The problem was that, whenever there was meat (goat) for sale, we had to fight against the Russian Diplomats' wives, and the Russian Navy seamen. The seamen were from the Russian nuclear submarines and surface warships, permanently present in the harbour, all of them painted a dull black colour. (Habana, or Havana, means "safe harbour," and it is a very safe harbour.)

We never won. The only other food available was tins (mostly without labels) of various things from Canada, all well past their sell-by date. Really! The Russians paid for their food with "Inter" money (like Monopoly money,) while we paid in the much despised US$ (that everybody wanted!) We had lots of money in those days, because Cuba was classed as a "Hardship 1" posting by the British Foreign Office and, as such, the posting paid very well.

Lots of money or not, there was never much food to be had, and you can't eat money. We used to buy electric fans, fridges, and similar goods that Cubans were not allowed to buy (from the "Inter" tourist, souvenir shops!) and go out into the countryside to swap the fans etc for live chickens, the odd potato, carrots and so on. My wife made baby food out of these things, and froze them in ice-cube trays in our freezer. Then we would lose the electricity for a few days and all the frozen food for our little girl would spoil. So we would start all over again.

I went back to Cuba over the following years and, for old times' sake, I visited the new Diplomercado (built with Canadian money, as was the new airport.) The Diplo was enormous, excessively air-conditioned, and the rows of gleaming, new shelves were stocked with just two things: tomato ketchup and cat food. All well past their throw away dates, of course. The Diplo was empty, apart from the totally disinterested staff and myself.

The lack of everything was very trying so, whenever we went on leave to Miami, or the BVI, we would buy a huge trunk there, and fill it with everything we couldn't get in Havana. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, you name it, we bought it. In spite of our Diplomatic status, some of it was "confiscated" by the customs officers in Havana, as soon as we arrived, but we usually got the bulk in.

I smuggled in seeds to grow food in our "garden." The garden had been abandoned for decades and was full of rubbish, snakes and large scorpions. Even worse, the topsoil was about 10 cms deep and then you hit granite. I acquired a very heavy iron bar, about 2 metres long, and broke holes in the granite. We "liberated" soil when we were in the countryside, and filled the holes (called canteras.) We planted the seeds and grew all our fruit and veg. All crops grow like crazy in that climate, it is really easy.

We didn't choose our house; we were allotted one by the State. It was pre-bugged with electronic ears. Even our car was bugged. On one side of our house was a block of revolting, stinking apartments. The inhabitants were dreadful people (thanks to the system) and all they seemed to do was loll about and spy on each other. All day. The "spies" were the "State Committee For The Defense Of The Revolution," and they reported on me, and their own neighbours, every day, to the Secret Police. Every block had its spies.

On the other side of our house was a small bungalow, in which lived a General and his family. Both sets of our neighbours were intrigued and fascinated to see foreign "Diplomats," outside, pouring with sweat, fixing our garden and growing food. I gave both of them seeds to grow their own food. They did nothing, but were always trying to scrounge food from us. I told them to sod off.

The Cuban people could have been growing their own food, in urban gardens, since 1959, right after the Revolution. Unfortunately, the Communist system was such that, if you grew something yourself, the local spy would report the fact, and you had to share your produce with your neighbours. Therefore nobody did anything, except for "exempt" people like us.

When the Soviet Union collapsed (nothing to do with Ronald Reagan and his "Tear down that wall" speech - it was already well on its way to collapsing anyway,) the oil-for-sugar deal with the Soviets ground to a halt, and Cuba was in seriously deep trouble. It still is.

So, it is no surprise to me that the Cubans are now growing their own food in the urbs; they have no choice. Grow it or starve.

One of my last acts before we were mercifully transferred from Cuba to fabulous Belgium, was to kill the cockerel that lived in the filthy shambles of a "garden" belonging to the block of flats next door. That damned bird had no sense of time. It would consistently crow its head off, all through the night, and wake us up. My pleas with my neighbours were all in vain. The cockerel was kept for the simple reason that looking after it called for zero effort. It strutted about all day, scratching for whatever it could find, and crowed all bloody night.

I acquired a powerful air pistol from the British Embassy, and one night, with the aid of a torch (flashlight?) I sent it off to Valhalla, or wherever annoying creatures go to. My neighbours were in uproar, but I just denied everything. They knew I was lying, but they couldn't do a damned thing about it. Anyone harming a foreign official just disappeared."

Friday, October 22, 2010

This Spirit Should Be the Inspiration for All Sailors

Thank god people like this exist -- a group of four anarchists who bought a derelict boat and sailed from Florida to Dominican Republic. The video is well-produced and over an hour long, but one of the better sailing documentaries I've seen.

This is an extreme version of how I started sailing. I was a bit of an anarchist back in the 90s and some friends wanted to purchase an old boat and sail it around the Chesapeake; I was against it because I couldn't sail. Eventually, we ended up with a 23' O'Day for free. It was our Anarchist Sailing Club, and there was no captain and no owner. That only worked out for a short few years, but damn, it was fun while it lasted. Now I'm a committed capitalist and own a bigger, more seaworthy vessel.

Watching this video, it will be very hard for you not to feel a bit freer than you feel now. The spirit of this video is my ideal, why I sail. Without that spirit, sailing is just jocks and rich fucks.

Hold Fast from Moxie Marlinspike on Vimeo.

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