Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Valley of Ice



First time in a short time that we've had this kind of ice in the Tennessee valley.

I can't distinctly remember having a 1/2 inch coating of ice on everything like we woke up to this morning but I don't think it's been more than a few years.

There's some 'Murica in that photo if you look closely.
Nonetheless, it all led to some interesting photos and views on the dogs' walk earlier today.

It was a little bit eery as things start to thaw out. Walking by homes with icicles falling and tree branches tumbling from the weight of the ice and snow. East Tennessee definitely isn't used to this so when it happens, all the branches from several winters' worth of weight start to fall.

Tree with ice blossoms
Not yet spring.
I'm not an arborist but it looked like that poor tree had started to blossom. We have a lot of dogwoods in the area and several had red buds like that encased in ice.

The pups enjoyed the walk and now both of them are in dire need of a bath. Oh, the joys of winter.




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

AK Advice

Now that prices are back down to reasonable levels, I'm thinking about picking up an AKM.

Any thoughts out there on performance and value?

Century Arms' WASR doesn't have the best reputation from what I've heard but I'm intrigued by it because of the price. Although, it's Romanian made, which seems weird to me.



The Zastava is about the same price and Serbian made, which I'm a little more comfortable with.



Any other suggestions/thoughts are appreciated and welcomed...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Perdomo Habano Maduro Toro


A review of the Maduro in Perdomo's Habano line-up


I had a chance to check out the Perdomo Habano Maduro toro cigar the other day. A striking stick that overall, I wasn't displeased with but it's likely not going to be invited into my humidor again. This cigar was rated a 94 but I'm not sure why.

Construction:

Perdomo's burn line habano maduro cigar
Pretty. Right?

I'm a sucker for Perdomo's construction. They really do a fantastic job at their facilities. I don't know that I've ever had a cigar that wasn't absolutely striking from them. It just looks high-end and classy to me. The wrapper on this cigar was beautiful, the cap just about seamless and everything about it made me feel like I couldn't afford to toast it!

I had no problems with the initial light or the toast itself. I was fortunate to enjoy a nice, even burn throughout - along with some ash that was damn near picturesque.

A little different for me, I used the punch cutter instead of the traditional guillotine.
I'm generally a guillotine cutter kind of guy. Chop the cap and light 'er up. I chose to go with the punch cutter in this case. In part, I made that decision because the 54-ring gauge of the cigar is pretty hefty so I thought the punch cutter might make better work and, ultimately, offer me a cleaner draw. It's possible this impacted my impression of the stick but really, I saw no problems with the draw or the construction.

The Toast - Flavor Profile

First of all, I'm not sure if I'm biased against Nicaraguan tobacco or what. I love Oliva cigars but this Perdomo with filler tobacco primarily from the famed Esteli-region of Nicaragua didn't do it for me. I picked up some decent spice in this cigar. While other cigar smokers noted hints of cocoa or chocolate, I didn't pick that up at all. Instead, I got spice and just some stale smokey/tobacco flavors. Maybe my palate wasn't up for the task of truly enjoying this cigar.  Maybe some leather in there as well but definitely not cocoa.

This cigar is full flavored, in my opinion and definitely complex enough that it warrants your full attention. This ins't a cigar for Poker night but is definitely worthy of a toast if you're up for a quiet and reflective evening on the front porch.

Conclusion


If I could, I'd put this cigar on the wall and just look at it all day. Toasting it was, however, a very different story. It's worth trying, if for no other reason than the cigar experts love it. For my taste, however, this cigar scores in the low-80s with a 81/100 rating.


Monday, February 2, 2015

SHOT Show Crud

Sorry. Things have been a bit rough.

Returned from SHOT Show and have been stuffed up and dizzy ever since.

Hoping to be up for some cigars this week and should have more up here soon.

Until then, I'll be documenting my whacked-out, NyQuil induced dreams so be ready for stories like this once I'm able to steady myself at the keyboard!

NyQuil Dreams
Yep, that about sums up the power of NyQuil!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Snowstorms and Killer Ferrets

Too good not to post...

So, cable news is in high gear tonight. Like, Election Night "high gear".

On CNN, they're already wall-to-wall with a snow storm that hasn't hit yet.

On MSNBC, it's driving around New York City in a snow storm that hasn't materialized.

On FOX, they're still going off about the State of the Union.

But, fear not. I have Headline News.

No matter how scary the weather, the only thing truly worth fearing is right under my nose. And they work in pairs.

Ferrets attacking!
Nancy Grace, you wonderful beacon of journalism...
It's crap like this that truly makes Jon Stewart's job easy.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cigar Review: Ashton VSG Robusto


It's been frigid cold here for the past week or so - because of it, time for cigars has been rough.

Had a chance Saturday to check out the Ashton VSG Robusto from my boys at Cigars City. Did so while walking the dogs, which was a huge mistake that I'll get into some detail about in a second.

Construction

Ashton VSG Robusto mid-way point

This is kind of an ugly cigar - I'm not going to lie. Lots of veins in the wrapper and definitely not as beautiful as some of the other cigars you can get in the same price-range.  The wrapper itself was dark and as I'd aged this in the humidor a few months, was oily and just about perfect in my opinion in terms of texture and feel.

These wrappers are grown on a private Ecuadorian estate that the Oliva family owns --- although the cigar itself is blended by Carlos Fuente, Jr.

I had some issues with my burn at first (which may have been attributed to the cold weather here). I had to relight several times in the first-third of the stick. After I got it cooking, I didn't have any problems through the rest of the cigar.

Flavor and Aroma

Many of the existing reviews out there rate this cigar very highly and classify it as very strong. While flavorful, "very strong" isn't an accurate description of what I encountered.

At first light, the Ashton VSG (Virgin Sun Grown) was a fairly pleasant toast for me. Not too strong right out of the gate but not as weak as some of the more mild cigars I've had. I was surprised that it rode sort of a middle section of my palate very well. I find many cigars are either too weak to be enjoyed or so strong that they overpower.

As I continued through the first third into the middle portion of the cigar, I didn't pick up any real flavor or aroma changes. It stayed consistent throughout.

This Dominican-made cigar has been highly acclaimed by many of the cigar experts out there, drawing a 93 rating recently. There is a decent amount of pepper but a ton of smoothness in this stick as well. Overall, I was very pleased with the flavor profile

Stop Walking While Smoking

Brr. It was a cold one!
In part because of a busy schedule and in part because of the cold, I haven't had much time to just sit and relax with a cigar on the front porch --- which is my go-to method for cigar tasting. I did take a moment after my walk with the Ashton VSG to simply slow-down and enjoy the cigar. I can't tell you the difference this made.

After an unscientific analysis, I think if I toast while walking I take quicker draws --- which likely causes the tobacco to burn hotter than it should --- destroying the cigar's unique flavor profile in the process. 

While I can't guarantee I won't walk and toast in the future - I feel like I cheated this cigar by not sitting back and taking slow draws. In the process, I cheated myself out of what is a really good stick priced at $8-$10 per cigar.




Friday, January 9, 2015

You Get An Associate's and You Get An Associate's!

There's no such thing as a free education. Even if the President claims it is so.

Pellissippi State in Knox County
Pellissippi State Community College in Knox County, Tennessee
So, President Obama was in my part of the world today.

"Free community college for all" was the message.


Under Obama's proposal, Americans would receive two years of community college tuition at no cost to themselves. Essentially, the administration is suggesting we add another two-years to the high school curriculum in the United States.

"Two years of college will become as free and universal as high school is today," Obama said at Pellississippi State Community College, a nice little campus about 20-minutes from your author's home.

This Ain't Tennessee's Plan

Obama touted his free community college plan
"It's not just for kids,. we also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits."

The model that the President is suggesting would leave the federal government to pick up the majority of the cost (75%), leaving the states to pick up the remaining costs.

Obama has suggested this model is based on something called Tennessee Promise.

"Students who started at community colleges during their first two years and then go on to a four-year institution, they essentially get their first half of their bachelor's degree for free," Obama said. "People who enroll for skills training will graduate already ready to work and they won't have a pile of student debt."

That's a program that covers tuition at community colleges for all students in the state. However, there is one significant difference. In Tennessee, the money for these scholarships has come largely from the state's lottery revenue. A tax I don't have to pay unless I elect to buy a losing lottery ticket.

Instead, the federal plan mandates that I subsidize the education of some 18-year-old so he or she can pursue a degree that may or may not benefit society, be profitable in the long-run to the individual student, and might not even be completed successfully.

It's Not Community College I Oppose


I don't have a problem with community college. In fact, I think there are a ton of two-year degrees that are an outstanding choice and investment for 18-year-olds out there.

Electricians, welders and other positions like that are in high demand and command wages that certainly rival --- if they do not surpass --- what I'm paid with a graduate degree.

So, why oppose what so many in my generation believe so strongly in?

We Don't Use What We Already Have



We have Americans who don't take advantage of the high school education they get for free now. Further, look at the number of low-income families that are eligible for Pell Grants that would cover tuition already but either don't have the intellectual capacity or the drive to take advantage of those benefits.

Some argue this will help the middle class --- those students who aren't currently eligible for Pell Grants because their families are too wealthy.

Instead, I argue this merely sets the bar lower for the middle class and teaches poor lessons about the cost of education, self-development and encourages settling for less than full achievement of potential.

Today's Lesson: Return On Investment


One of the hardest decisions a lot of college students make is the selection a major field of study. It's not easy and frankly, it's not supposed to be.

By giving two years of college for free, we're taking return on investment out of the equation for a lot of students. Degrees with relatively low-income potential like philosophy, poetry, English and others are now a lot more palatable. After all, instead of four years of debt to get a job that pays $25,000 annually, you now only have two years worth of debt. 
At the same time, the degree itself is still only worth $25,000 each year and doesn't truly help the country move forward in manufacturing or anything else that will help the nation compete in the global economy.

Entitlements: Start 'Em Early


Thanks to Obamacare, we're getting really good at relying upon someone else for a lot of what we consider necessities. In this case, most of us consider it the government. In actuality, it's the working class citizen that's paying taxes that is paying for the healthcare.

This community college proposal is no different. 

Instead of taking the risk of student loans yourself or working a job to pay for tuition, students are being taught to suckle on the teat of government to get two years paid for. At this point, there's no reason to believe this two-years of tuition will be earned --- it's simply given by the government with no repercussions for students who don't finish with a degree. 

In theory, you could get your tuition covered by the government to study philosophy, live in an apartment paid for by student loans, eat thanks to food stamps, and then graduate into unemployment and remain on government benefits as you start a family that can rely upon the government to meet all their needs --- all the while they're not contributing to the bottom line.

Final Exam

My biggest fault in this plan comes in the funding. Plainly, we don't know the details yet but it's clear federal money will be used. That means Americans, like me, who are still paying off student debt of their own will be forced to subsidize the education of others.

There are lessons taught coming up through the education system the way it is today. Whether student loan institutions are predatory is certainly debatable but if we don't allow our young adults to learn those lessons at that point in their life --- when will they?

The answers to developing the future of the economy in the United States won't be solved by giving out two years of college to anybody who wants it like it's some sort of Oprah giveaway. Instead, the answers are much more difficult and will require a cultural shift. A shift away from a mindset of entitlements and toward the integrity and reward that comes with hard work, dedication, and taking a chance on oneself that ultimately pays off.