Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I know a guy who steadfastly claims he received a FREE 1959 Ferrari and Jaguar from Cuban Communists.

Through work, I know this older British gentleman who drinks way too many gin and tonics, complains about nearly everything, and tells 10 amazing stories per hour. Like nearly every Brit I've met, he is truly eccentric. No need to belabor the details, but, for example, he does not drink water and eats only one meal a day.

I now know him well enough that I don't let his extraordinary stories pass without a challenge -- and nearly every freaking story, by that standard, is challengeable.

For example, I gave him HELL when he insisted that he once visited a bar in Dublin next door to the Guinness plant that had a secret pipe that pumped fresh beer into the bar direct from the brewery. And now he's told me the granddaddy of whoppers: he once received a FREE 1959 Ferrari Testa Rossa and XKSS Jaguar from the Cuban government, then later sold them for four million dollars. And the funny part is not the claim itself, but the fact that he's actually claiming it -- and also, that it might be true!

Ok, some background. This British gent did live in Cuba for three years in the 1980s working for a massive chemical company making sure that Castro paid them what he owed. He has told tens of believable stories about living there. But after pressing him on this free Ferrari story for several days, I think he may have it straight.

So here's the gist of what apparently happened. After Castro took power, all the gangsters fled and left behind their cars. We all know that. But the Cuban government confiscated the REALLY fancy cars and impounded them. This Brit was pretty rich in the 80s, so he decided to buy these old sports cars from the government for $250,000. He went through the Ministry of Culture, but because the Communist government is so thoroughly inept, that department had zero communication with the Ministry of Finance. So after he ran a letter of credit, and the vehicles were shipped to England via East Germany, the payment collection just fell through the cracks and he got them for free -- shipping cost and all.

I've been pressing him and waiting for a slip-up in the details but haven't caught him yet. This shit may have actually happened, but I'm still skeptical. I mean, the Cuban government is notoriously inept so it's not so crazy that an error like this occurred. I'll be razzing him for a while on this one though.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trader Vic's in Atlanta, Georgia: Fucking Awesome.

It may surprise you, but last night was my first experience at the tiki restaurant, Trader Vic's. The thrill and pleasure sensations that pulsed through my body while there were completely unexpected. I nearly came in my pants from happiness -- like stepping into an exotic kitsch country full of neato stuff 12-year-old boys like.

It was like 1956 San Francisco or something. Everything was exactly as I could have hoped or better. All the waiters were American-Chinese, the cocktails were over-the-top -- sometimes on fire, perfectly balanced in flavor -- real turtles and blowfish adorned the walls and ceilings, and everywhere you could see were tiki totems, bamboo, or exotic designs. You probably already know those things exist at tiki restaurants, but you really have to eat mahi mahi and drink rum around all this weird stuff to understand.

I convinced our table to start off with a scorpion bowl -- a big bowl of rum, fruit juice and crushed ice that five people drink through two-foot colorful straws. YES YES. My second cocktail was a Black Stripe: dark Jamaican rum, a crushed cherry, cinnamon stick, honey and cloves -- lit on fucking FIRE, and served from a giant mug that looked like a human skull (and nearly the same size). Third was a Mai Tai. And God, I thought I mixed them best. I am humbled. Humbled.

I am not joking when I say these two things: 1) Trader Vic's in Atlanta was the funnest restaurant I've been to in a long time, and; 2) while there, I had a jittery feeling that I'd quit my job and open one up in DC for tourists and locals. Dare me?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Three A's of Animal Rights

I'm not getting into a Peter Singer-type moral discussion of animal rights, but here are what I call the Three A's of the animal rights movement -- the reasons why vegetarianism and veganism appeal to human emotions (beyond the basic moral plea that "killing animals is fundamentally wrong") and the reasons why they're mostly not useful in addressing the real problems faced by the meat industry.

Anthropomorphizing. It is flawed to make a judgement about the living conditions of an animal based on how humans would feel in the same conditions. I'll use chickens as an example. A chicken house may appear like a wartime concentration camp if humans were put there, but for a chicken it may be perfectly comfortable in most ways. Rather than making a subjective judgement, a better way would be to measure stress hormones between house-raised chickens vs. chickens raised outdoors -- and in fact, those studies show no differences.

People have no idea what pleases an animal for its whole life. Sure, certain things are obvious, like the fact that no animal wants to be beaten or tortured, but that's not the reality of a production animal's life. The overwhelming majority of time -- chickens, for example -- is spent living a boring existence inside a 500' x 40' house close to other animals of their own species. I admit, it is a legitimate critique to talk of the disease problems caused by animals standing and eating in their own feces, but these are problems that the meat industry confronts on a daily basis and can control with large success mostly with minimal harm to animals or consumers.

Aesthetics. Many people are dismayed by the “industrial” part of modern farming. They have an idyllic image of what a farm should be: orange sun rising on the horizon, happy cows grazing in rolling green fields, a cute little red barn, a noble farmer with kind eyes and worn overalls. This rural aesthetic mainly exists in the minds of people in urban areas. People object to the visually unappealing nature of “factory farming” but you think an animal gives a fuck about living on a pretty farm that’s visually appealing to humans? Come on.

Unless city dwellers are willing to pay $50 per chicken, industrial farming will continue, and even in its current state it's barely profitable (in fact, the largest chicken producer in the USA, Pilgrim's Pride, is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy). The meat industry would give daily blow jobs to the animals if consumers were willing to pay the price, but meat is a business, people -- not spa treatment.

Absence of knowledge of the problems actually faced by the meat industry. A perfect example of this is the movement to make chickens "free range" -- which in reality means a small opening in the chicken house where the animal has the option of walking into a small, 4' X 12' strip of grass. In reality, the chicken -- an animal naturally afraid of wolves and other predators -- never chooses to go outside. The animal would rather stay near the food inside the house, gathered tightly and warmly with hundreds of other chickens.

My father started in the poultry industry in 1955 doing catch-and-haul in northeast Texas. He’s seen the problems and struggles in this industry for over 50 years and it relates not one iota to what a Morrissey-listening vegan considers “problems”. Rather than pressing for non-issues like "free range", it would be a tremendous help if people cared, for example, about litterless affordable flooring systems. That's a technology that would reduce disease, profitability, and improve animal welfare by leaps and bounds but it's not as sexy as "free range" which appeals more to human emotions than the actual needs of meat animals as they're currently raised.

My point is that an abolitionist stance toward the meat industry may advance animal welfare in small ways (for example, KFC and McDonald's are at the forefront of animal welfare issues due to public pressure generated by groups like PETA) but there are a huge number of problems to be solved that will only get done by people rolling up their sleeves and working on the real issues meat animals face, absent emotion and moral condemnation.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Oysters Shucked This Month: One 5-Gallon Bucketful

They say that eating a raw oyster is like French-kissing the sea. I agree with them. This food has been eaten since the dawn of time and many people (like me) wax philosophically about them in the same way they would about a subject like sailing, love, music, or nature.

A few months ago I discovered that Cameron's Seafood up the street sells big raw Chesapeake oysters for $8.99 a dozen and I've gone nuts. They're supposed to taste best during the coldest months, and proof that this is true is the picture at right -- my collection of empty shells filling an entire 5-gallon bucket.

Shucking your own is no easy task -- and dangerous. Despite having shucked all those in this picture, I'm still not perfect and screw up a fourth of them. The oyster knife is more like a miniature crowbar that you wedge into the crustacean's hinge and wiggle until it's tight. This action takes a bit of muscle and patience, and it's easy to slip and jab it into your left hand. Once you have a tight fit, you bend the knife back and forth until you hear a nice "pop" -- a sound as solid and satisfying as a baseball hitting a catcher's mitt in the spring.

There have been some big ones that gave me a fight. Thank god the knife point is dull, otherwise I'd surely have stitches all over my left palm. Last night I fought one monster for a good five minutes and actually broke a sweat before he popped open.

Oyster-eaters must truly love life. Occasionally I've heard of people getting sick from eating raw ones, but this is no excuse for stopping altogether. Even if I got sick to the point of puking out my spleen, I'd still eat them.

(Youtube: How to shuck an oyster).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Appreciate a Good Jeweler.

For the first 30 years of my life, I didn't give a single thought to the jewelry profession. But now that I have a wife that I love so god damn much, the experience of picking out the occasional earring or necklace is one of life's small pleasures.

For Christmas I decided Katie needed some pearl earrings, so while in Michigan I asked her dad for a recommendation of a good place. The whole time Katie's dad and I drove to the shop, he was going off about how great a person the owner was -- that he loved dogs, had a place up north, etc.

I walked into a small storefront near a strip mall in suburban Detroit to be greeted by a 50-something man with mid-western friendliness and a strong Michigan accent. Perfect. The experience was short and pleasant. I found the earrings I wanted, with the perfect amount of salesmanship from the owner, and he gave me a sweet discount.

I like people who have a genuine understanding of customer service and pride in their work. This is something you don't find as much outside the USA.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Today, the Obamas Attended Church Two Blocks from My Home

What a nice benefit of living in the District.

This morning, while nursing our hangovers from the previous night's celebration, I noticed that yellow police tape was blocking off my entire street. I walked outside and saw that 100 people had gathered on the corner.

We threw on our coats, grabbed cameras and fresh coffee, and walked toward the crowd waiting to see the Obamas come out of the nearby Baptist church two blocks from my house. A few of the women in the crowd had church-chorus-honed singing voices and had gotten everyone to sing songs like Amazing Grace and This Little Light of Mine. This might sound cheesy, but being there was a feeling of camaraderie you rarely experience.

We waited 35 minutes and saw the Obamas come out, get in the limo and speed away. I wonder if this will be his regular church? Man, the feeling in the city this weekend is something special. I am lucky.

(The church is the white building in the picture with the green dome. The Obamas exited that red door right behind the bus stop. The Washington Post article about it is here).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Sweatshops" Are Good. Thank God the NY Times Had the Balls to Say It.

I love the Times. Especially because of the occasional article like this one that, in pursuit of truth, isn't afraid to risk making First World liberals whine and shout with outrage.

The author, Nichloas Kristoff, has done excellent work documenting sex slavery in the brothels of Cambodia lately. This is the kind of journalism that makes a difference. I went to Cambodia in 2003 and have seen how rampant the prostitution of underage girls is, but as a passing tourist, you don't really see it. In fact, here's a photo of me after a few drinks walking through the back streets of Cambodia with a few hookers grabbing at my arm:

It all seems relatively harmless and silly when you're there -- all these women clinging and grabbing for a potential john -- until a journalist does the dirty work of finding the true situation. Then regulators and police get embarrassed and hopefully take notice and crack down.

And now, after Kristoff spent time watching the poor gather plastic in a smoking garbage dump in Phnom Penh, the truth is easily accessible:

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

I figured this out the first time I visited the Third World in Peru. It's one of those things that you can't understand unless you experience it. The depth of the poverty weighs on you, even if you stay only two weeks. The whole time I was in Peru, I couldn't believe such widespread poverty and unemployment could exist without violent revolt. But it did.

Many First World liberals have this perception of the Third World as run by top-hat-wearing, cackling capitalist caricatures, cracking whips for factories that make clothes for Wal-Mart. Mostly, this is not the case. People in poor countries do shitty-ass jobs that don't exist in the rich countries. I remember when I was in Myanmar watching people break big rocks with sledgehammers on the side of a scorching, dusty highway. That was their job: just breaking massive boulders all day long in 110 degree heat.

The day I came back from Peru was the day I started my drift toward the political center. Thank god the Times agrees with me. And make sure you watch the video that goes with the article, you milk-fed liberal. DO IT.

NYT: "Where Sweatshops are a Dream"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

36 Days Sailing in 2008: My Record

Today I grabbed my logbook off the sailboat and after doing the math, figured out that I sailed 36 days in 2008 -- an average of one daysail every 1.4 weeks.

I was shooting for once every 1.5 weeks, so I beat my goal. For 2009, I hope I get in at least once every 1.2 weeks. That would be nice.

In 2008, I didn't sail at all during January and February and only once in March. My biggest sailing month was June with eight sailing days. For April through November -- the normal sailing season for most boaters -- I sailed an average of once every 0.97 weeks, which makes me VERY happy.

So the short calculation is that for the official sailing season, I sailed more than once a week, and for the whole year, once every week and a half. Not bad.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bourdain slipping?

The new season of No Reservations is here. But Tony seems less snarky than before. Anyone else think he's getting soft? I'm 3/4 into the Venice episode and he hasn't complained ONCE. This is disappointing. Well, at least he still drinks.

Googling Exes: Yup, She Hasn't Changed in 12 Years

I googled my ex-girlfriend from 12 years ago and found a detailed blog she's been keeping. Sure enough, she's the EXACT same as when I dated her -- a hardcore vegan animal rights activist who wears all black clothes all the time and feels guilty about everything, including her own existence.

The relationship was a one-year fight fest that was never meant to be -- which is what all my friends had been telling me the whole time.

My wife had a similar experience recently when she came across her ex's blog. She discovered the same angry, unhappy, straight-edge vegan that she no longer is. (Not to generalize about vegans, but are they ALL unhappy and guilt-ridden?)

So many people never change. My politics are nowhere near the Marxist-Vegetarian-Leftie business of my life a decade back. This is to my credit.

Let's make a nautical analogy to explain how and why I've changed. My ideology and outlook on life are like a wooden sailboat circumnavigating the globe. As conditions change and time goes on, parts of the ship become worn out and need replacement; the weakest parts usually fail first. If neglected, the ship risks sinking. If you don't scrape the barnacles off the hull, the boat will stagnate -- barely moving, foundering about. A ship's working parts often need change or the boat won't move forward properly. Sometimes, when the wear and tear is really bad, you have to stop in port for assistance from someone who has more experience to make the boat better. I imagine it takes constant work to keep a wooden boat sturdy and seaworthy enough to continue through the shit the ocean throws at it. Ships that don't make alterations from time to time often end up in a pretty unhappy state.

This is the way a person's political ideology and worldview should be. Yea, that's right: if more people were like me, things would be better (just kidding).

UPDATE: Today my dad reminded me that one time back in 1997 when I invited this vegan girlfriend over to my parent's house, she noticed that the dogs were playing with a stuffed (fake) rabbit toy and it made her upset. About a synthetic toy!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I'm Addicted to Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares

Gordon Ramsay is this British asshole chef who says fuck in every sentence. His show Kitchen Nightmares brings him into restaurants on the verge of bankruptcy and he turns them around through a combination of shouting, cursing, drastic menu changes and sometimes physical fights. It's awesome.

Tonight's episode had Gordon calling this arrogant French chef a "French pig." Oh man, it was great. Here's the best scene (NSFW for language):

You are wasting your TV watching time if you're not watching this program.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Listening to a Redneck Fake a Black Dialect is Torture

I'm sitting in a coffee shop trying to get some work done. To my right is a big fat redneck in a black football jersey chatting to four black guys about boring football crap. It's like a different language to me. The only thing more torturous than listening to grown men talk so seriously about something so trivial is the fact that the white redneck is going on and on with a pseudo-black dialect. I suppose it's to gain some street cred with all these old black guys, but god damn, it is torture to listen to.

This 'neck naturally has a rural Maryland accent but he's faking, for example, the way he says "Redskins" -- pronouncing it, "Rayed-skins."


I'm not sure which is worse: overhearing dudes have serious conversations about football as if it's actually an important topic, or overhearing teenaged girls over-use the word "like".

Luckily, Conspiranoid People Make Plenty of (Failed) Predictions

I get a skip in my step when predictions of doom and gloom turn out to be horribly incorrect. I have a dear friend who converted to cultish conspiranoia nearly two years ago and I've been making fun of him since. The good thing about conspiracy theorists is that they make plenty of predictions that are nearly always WRONG.

Below is a short list of the predictions my conspiranoid friend made for 2008:
- It will be revealed in 2008 that the 7/7 London bombings were done by MI5.

- It will be revealed in 2008 that the Oklahoma City bombing was done by the US government.

- Something sinister will be revealed about George H.W. Bush.

- Ron Paul will win the presidency.

- Obama will not win a single primary.

- Bush will nuke an American city.

- Bush will declare martial law.

- Bush will cancel the elections to remain in power.

- The US will experience hyperinflation.

- Lonnie Bruner will believe in 9/11 kookery by the end of 2008.

- The USA will experience a new Great Depression, worse than the 1930s.

The only one that was slightly close was the last point, but considering that the Great Depression lasted a decade with peak unemployment of 25% and deflation at -10%, we are currently leagues away, with our current unemployment under 7% and inflation running at a cool 1%. Bwaaa ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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