Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Champagne for my real friends; real pain for my sham friends.

This is a new trick I've learned: using a saber to open a champagne bottle:

Sabering a Champagne Bottle from Jim Webb on Vimeo.

It's surprisingly easy, but MAKE SURE you understand how before trying. If you mess up the technique, you'll be embarrassed in front of all your friends. You don't need a special knife like I have in the video (I borrowed that one from my friend who's a sommelier). Your heaviest kitchen knife will do. Here's my quick guide:

1 - Remove foil.

2 - Undo the basket, then tighten it above the bottom lip.

3 - Angle the bottle away from you like I did in the video, make sure you're outside and there's nothing of value in front of you for 100 feet.

4 - The dull edge of the knife will hit the lip, cracking just the top part off the glass, opening the bottle. Have everyone stand around you with empty glasses so you can start pouring right after sabering. Slide the knife from the back of the bottle toward the lip with a hard, confident stroke and it will pop right off.

The sound is better than a baseball hitting a worn leather catcher's mitt. Wonderful.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Cities I Visited in 2007

Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

Bangkok, Thailand

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jakarta, Indonesia

Makassar, Indonesia

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Vientiane, Laos

Seoul, South Korea

Manila, Philippines

Brooklyn, New York

Baltimore, Maryland

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Norfolk, Virginia

Dallas, Texas

Fort Worth, Texas

Austin, Texas

San Antonio, Texas

Houston, Texas

Duncan, Oklahoma

Detroit, Michigan

Chicago, Illinois

Traverse City, Michigan

Louisville, Kentucky

Monday, December 17, 2007

The First New York Times Article to Bring Tears to My Eyes

For the first time, a newspaper article made me tear up.

Maybe it was because insomnia held me in its prickly arms last night until 5:30AM --- wearing a war of attrition on my nerves until, like a girl, I broke into tears from something that normally would have had no effect. (This happens sometimes when I'm three sheets to the wind, too).

Or maybe it was because I've met people in Laos.

I visited Laos this year, motored a four-wheel-drive through its nether-regions, and got saved from a sloppy mudhole by some kindly rice farmers who pushed my truck out for a sip from my bottle of beer and a drag off my crooked, wet cigarette.

Back in the 60s and 70s, our CIA supported the Laos Hmong fighters to fight communists, and as of 2007, there are still a few left, dug deep into southeast Asian jungle, fighting the war and still seeking support from America. But from us, they've gotten --- and will get --- cold abandonment and maybe even violent death at the hands of their enemies.

The NY Times reporter, Thomas Fuller, in an effort that should make 90% of modern-day journalists feel like milk-fed desk jockeys, was escorted by AK-47-wielding locals through miles of dark southeast Asian jungle to find a small band of a few thousand freedom fighters. He was the first foreigner that those people had seen in over 30 years. Thirty years. "Freedom fighter" is a watered-down description nowadays, but from reading this article, I'm convinced that these Hmong tribesmen deserve that noble term.

The actions of the United States --- covert or otherwise --- are REAL and they have long-term effects. The Hmong are living examples that three decades onward, the behavior of my country has had local effects that still continue; cold geopolitics were --- and are --- meaningless to them.

I urge you to watch the video of the interview of one of the old men who your CIA gave material and logistical support 32 years ago. Listen to the old man's tone and try and understand where he's coming from. Listen for the sadness in his rare language. It's a moment that makes your realize that the often irresonsible force that the USA wantonly throws around has long-term effects and means something real and brutal in many cases. For a long time.

Thank god the New York Times had the balls to get this story out.

(NYT article here).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Owning a sailboat is NOT expensive unless you want it to be.

It's an unfair cliché to say that owning a sailboat is expensive. It's not, unless you have the personality to make it so.

Unless you're a stink pot driver, you can save $200 in gas per day right off. Next, there's no reason to believe that only rich people can own sailboats; that's just common because rich guys tend to have the good taste to desire the finer things in life --- plus there's a history of high class and sailboating that probably began with the first America's Cup in 1851. Also, think of the number of famous paintings including sailboats (a lot) vs. motor boats (very few). Yea, you get it.

I got my first sailboat when I was teaching part-time at an English language school and making less than $20k/year. Never regretted the purchase.

Recently, I read a sailing forum where sailors described what boat equipment they spent most money on. Their items were hardly an issue for me because I don't obsess over the fastest sails, the shiniest chrome trim or replacing bulkheads when they get a tad crusty. We're out there to sail, are we not? Who cares about pretty.

My main fees are for the slip which is WELL worth it. I sail about once every 1.5 weeks during the warmer months (March thru November). The boat has been in the water most of its life (Cal 27, 1971) and I clean the bottom when the boat's anchored and the ladies are off swimming or sunbathing --- just strap on the goggles and flippers and tie a lanyard from the rusty paint scraper to my wrist.

I feel happy about 99% of the things I've spent on my boat because I truly LOVE the salt water and all things nautical and sailboaty. If you don't truly love it, you'll constantly be thinking about the money you spent, and in that case, you should just stay on dry land and take up golf.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This is me playing guitar in my college band circa 1993.

Note: Triple necklace, Primus bumper sticker and "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" t-shirt. Good lord ...

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Tour of the Maker's Mark Whiskey Distillery

I just spent five days in Kentucky at an organic farming trade show talking to Amish farmers, people who believe that water has a memory, and a host of other growers and radical environmentalists.

Why do organic and green issues attract so many weirdos? Within 15 minutes of showing up to the show, an almond farmer was talking to me about UFOs. Later, some crazy old coot with a scraggly white beard was telling me he was a Hindu Baptist who eats dirt and worships earthworms. Another guy claimed that he had mapped the double helix using trace minerals, and that yttrium is the most important mineral on the periodic table for human and plant nutrition. Yttrium??

After the show was done, we drove two hours to visit the Maker's Mark Bourbon distillery. I don't even drink Maker's, but I heard from many different people that they give the best public tours.

Here are some things I learned:

1 - There are zero Bourbon distilleries in Bourbon County, KY. Many people think Bourbon Whiskey can only be distilled in that county, but there's nothing there except cows. All distilleries are in neighboring counties.

2 - All Bourbon is made using column stills, not the old style pot stills. I had expected big elegant brass pot stills but nowadays only scotch distilleries still use them. This was disappointing because I thought only the lowly vodka used column stills.

3 - I had heard that the regions where the distilleries are located are dry counties. Not true. I saw plenty of liquor and beer stores all over the place.

4 - Maker's is double-distilled before it's put into barrels. I thought all Bourbon was only distilled once.

They allowed us to stick our hands into the mash. Not all distilleries do that. The "mash" is the combination of grains, water and yeast that ferments in gigantic, century-old cypress tubs for four days before it's put through the still. The yellow, bubbling mash smells like yeasty bread and the scent stayed on my hand for a full 24 hours.

Here's my hand picking up a soupy chunk of the fermenting grain. The liquid is very warm due to the vigorously fermenting yeast. This mix is corn, wheat, malted barley, yeast and water. There's nothing covering the brew so there are gnats flying everywhere and into the mash. But it doesn't matter because the distillation process sterilizes everything.

Here's where they age the bourbon in oak barrels for 6 to 7 years. They rotate these barrels through the top and bottom of the barn for at least three Kentucky summers, allowing the wood to expand and contract, impermeating that smokey oak flavor into the liquor.

After the tour was over, they let us taste some Maker's side-by-side with the whiskey before it's aged in barrels. Most people don't know this, but when whiskey is first distilled, it's clear as water. That initial distillate is called "white dog" and has a 100% different taste from the stuff you buy at stores. The only reason Bourbon has any color or smokey flavor is derived from aging in the barrel.

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