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.


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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ammo to the Atmosphere!

Saw this over at Kent's place - Kind of cool, claim that they got 120,000 feet up! Wonder if a 50 BMG would have gone as high?
Video source:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Stadium Review: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin

I had the chance to check out my favorite college football rivalry this past weekend while visiting family over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: The Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe.

I'm going to attempt to be as unbiased as possible in this review.

Frankly, I despise the University of Wisconsin. As a University of Minnesota grad, I think the Twin Cities home of the Golden Gophers is a much better scene for a college education, from the buildings to the coeds.

That said, the University of Wisconsin has really put some work into the outside of Camp Randall since my days as a high schooler trolling around campus. Improvements to the facade and a new trophy room with giant glass windows allow fans to look in and see Ron Dayne's Heisman Trophy and everything else that has been collected by the Badgers over the years.
Camp Randall's North Entrance and Newly Renovated Facade

As a Minnesota fan, seeing most of these trophies made me sick to my stomach.

As you walk in the gates, it feels like a typical college stadium. There is something about the gates at most collegiate facilities that still feels amateurish. It's kind of a cool feeling. For whatever reason, most schools don't tend to put money in this area because it doesn't do much for recruiting --- at least that's my hypothesis.

Inside, Camp Randall is a good place to watch a ballgame. The field is flanked by a giant scoreboard and jumbotron one one side and the old Wisconsin fieldhouse on the other side. The old fieldhouse is a great piece of history that I'm glad Wisconsin has decided to spare any advertisements or other defacing features.

You can barely make out the Wisconsin crest on the fieldhouse just beyond the far endzone.
The gameday atmosphere at Wisconsin carries a pretty strong reputation across the country. From the notorious Wisconsin drinking, brat grilling and overall great tailgating scene to the loyal fanbase that hasn't seen a losing team in about two decades.

The fanbase was very friendly on this gameday. While the student section is known for chants of "a$$h@ole!" at opposing team's fans and other chants laced with obscenities, most of the adults in the stadium are fairly cordial and won't have you reaching for brass knuckles. (Note: this is especially true if the visiting team jumps out to a 17-3 early lead).

On this particularly chilly day, Wisconsin's Camp Randall did not strike me as a particularly loud crowd. That is, no amount of third down noise was particularly disruptive to the players on the field. With a packed house of more than 80,000 in attendance, I expected better.

Perhaps if the student body was as focused on football as they were on House of Pain's Jump Around, it could have been a better home field advantage for the Badgers.

In terms of food, you're not going to want to eat inside this stadium. It's normal, stadium-fare. But outside, you can get stereotypical Wisconsin/German food that's just so much better. From brats and sausage of pretty much any type to beer, you can't go wrong with just about any place on nearby State Street. Also, there are a number of public brat cookouts around campus where you can get a brat for a couple bucks to take in the whole "Wisconsin experience".

As for the game itself, it was a good game. Minnesota took an early 17-3 lead but Wisconsin stormed back, keeping Paul Bunyan's Axe in the longest consecutively running rivalry game in the United States, dating back to 1948 --- with the "Slab of Bacon" trophy pre-dating the Axe by about 15 years. (Wisconsin "lost" the Slab of Bacon and thus, the axe trophy was born). 

Paul Bunyan's Axe... held captive by these animals.
It's a good place to watch a game.

I imagine it's an even better place to watch the visiting team win a game. Something that hasn't happened for my Gophers since 1994.

Final score:
Minnesota 24
Wisconsin 34

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cigar Review - Romeo y Julieta Reserva Toro

Had a chance to take a mid-day walk with the dogs and light up for the first time in a week or so.

romeo y julieta lit cigar
Romeo y Julieta's Reserve Toro Cigar

I really like the way these cigars are constructed. Fairly firm, with a beautiful wrapper on them, I really expected this cigar to knock my socks off. I picked up a 5-pack of these as part of a Romeo y Julieta sampler at Cigars City.

It didn't.

The cigar itself wasn't horrible when it came to flavor but I was picking up a lot of earthy flavor, which really isn't my cup of tea. I typically prefer some of the coffee type notes and would have even preferred pepper to what I was getting out of this stick. Mmmm. Dirt.

That wrapper is a Nicaraguan wrapper and the photo doesn't do it justice. It was spectacular to look at it. Inside, the filler tobacco on these guys is also Nicaraguan.

Beautiful to look at. Mediocre to smoke.

It did give me a little bit of a nicotine buzz for the afternoon, sad to say. I'm not good at the whole "walking and toasting" thing. I tend to smoke too quickly when I walk at the same time. I don't know if I get nervous just holding the cigar or what the deal is.

Either way, it was a nice afternoon delight and the dogs enjoyed the walk.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To - Movie Review

Dumb and Dumber To movie
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels star in the sequel to the 1994 smash "Dumb and Dumber"
I had the chance to catch an advanced screening of Dumb and Dumber To Wednesday night at a charity event here in Knoxville, Tennessee in a packed Regal theater.

Personal Background

The original Dumb and Dumber film is still standard fodder in my everyday conversations. You know, pulling the random, "I like it a lot" or "pretty bird" quote out and injecting it into casual conversations. As sad as it is to admit it, the original film released in 1994 may be one of the more influential of my miserable life.

However, this Dumb To isn't the first film released in the Dumb and Dumber series since the original (you might remember the God-awful "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd" from back in 2003). Because of that failed prequel attempt, I entered the theater pretty apprehensive about where this latest effort would wind up. However, the inclusion of the film's original stars and directors had me convinced if there was a sequel to see, this would be it and there was potential.

Where We Pick Up in Dumb and Dumber To

Harry and Lloyd riding a deer sculpture in the movie Dumb and Dumber To
Harry and Lloyd riding a deer sculpture of some sort.
This latest Dumb flick picks up 20 years after the original left off. The original cast, well, the only two that matter, Harry and Lloyd are played by the original actors (Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey).

Without both of these guys the film simply wouldn't have happened and frankly, I don't know if anyone could imagine a credible sequel not having both Daniels and Carrey in the mix.

With that in mind, I'm not sure if they shot this film sequentially but I had a hard time getting into the rhythm of the film for the first 25-30 minutes. Timing seemed off to me, Lloyd Christmas (Carrey's character) took on more traits from his The Cable Guy title character than what I remember of the original Lloyd Christmas.

Basic Plot of Dumb and Dumber To - No Spoilers

Shortly after the start of the film we learn Harry is in need of a new kidney and without it, he's facing a death sentence. With no family outside of estranged parents and Lloyd unwilling to part with one of his vital organs, they set out to reconnect with Harry's mother and father.

While visiting his parents, Harry picks up his old mail and discovers a postcard from Fraida Felcher (a love interest mentioned prominently in the first Dumb film). In the note she wrote 20 years ago, Felcher alerts Harry that she is pregnant. So, Harry and Lloyd set out to find her and what they hope will be a healthy son or daughter with a kidney Harry can harvest for his own use. The boys are on another road trip and the Farrelly Brothers (directors) are hoping you'll think hilarity ensues.

Secondary Characters

Rob Riggle as a correspondent for The Daily Show several years ago
Rob Riggle in his Daily Show and Comedy Central years.
For the most part, Daniels and Carrey carry the film, as you'd expect. However, a few prominent secondary characters get decent screentime and for the most part performed admirably. To ensure no spoilers are spilled, I'll just divulge the actors involved.
  • Rob Riggle - The Daily Show, 21 Jump Street, The Hangover
  • Laurie Holden - The Walking Dead
  • Kathleen Turner (Fraida Felcher) - The Virgin Suicides, Peggysue Got Married
  • Rachel Melvin - Days of Our Lives
  • The Blind Neighbor & Bird Kid - Dumb and Dumber (the original actor +20 years is back)
  • Honey Boo Boo's Mother - Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (talk about bad-timing... just as TLC cancels her show for involvement with a child molester, her cameo appearance hits theaters in Dumb To)
There were rumors that former NHL star Cam Neely (Sea Bass) was set to appear in the film. I tried to keep an eye out for him but I didn't see Sea Bass on screen. If he was there, it certainly wasn't milked for all it could have been. The diner scene with Sea Bass in the original Dumb film continues to be a classic comedy scene ("kick his ass Sea Bass!") so I think had Neely signed on for a role, it would've been pretty prominent.

Overall Impressions

As I mentioned, the film starts really poorly and struggles to find the chemistry and charisma that made the first Dumb film so good in the first place. 

There were portions of the storyline that brought genuine laughs but for the most part, this effort tries too hard and goes too far. Some of the brilliance of the initial installment was that it was non-offensive humor (for the most part) that wasn't overtly sexual or dirty. Plainly put, the humor in the original was so dumb it was smart.

In this case, the comedy crossed a bit of a line with racial jokes and more sexual innuendo than simpletons like Harry and Lloyd are supposed to be capable of. While "believability" may not be the best word - the caliber of humor simply wasn't fit for the characters we know and love. The writing wasn't as clever and while every sequel gets accused of this - it felt to me, as a viewer that this film was done out of obligation or profit-motives rather than having a great script for a film that had to be made.

That said, if you are a fan of the original, it's worth seeing. In a lot of ways the film will bring you back to the 1990's and I think that was done purposefully. A lot of the old gags and taglines make a reappearance, which delighted the crowd, much to my chagrin.

This film isn't likely to have me quoting any new lines from it for 20 years, but it'll keep you entertained for 90-minutes and, these days, I think that's about all you can ask for. It's worth seeing but make sure you lower your expectations as you take your seat or you'll leave sorely disappointed.

Finally, the Farrelly Brothers are now helping breed rumors that a Dumb and Dumber 3 movie could be made.  Based on this film, there's nothing left in the tank so a third installment would validate my fears that this series is now completely about money with no regard or respect for the original film's legacy.