Return to the Index

GP 14 May 2008: Tipping Points VI: It Takes All Kinds

My life is upside-down right now….  No matter what I do, it’s wrong.  I’m thinking of writing a new song.  I’ll call it, ‘I guess it’s my fault, even when it’s not my fault.’ –John Daly, One-of-a-Kind-Golfer

Mint Juleps.  Maybe because the Kentucky Derby was coming up, maybe because we have such a fine stand of mint next to the herb garden, we worked on perfecting our mint juleps this year.  We can now tell you that a goodly number of the juleps served at the Derby are plain bad.  As one of our correspondents has said, the Derby gives mint juleps a bad name.  And you had best learn that the most vaunted of barkeeps often have it wrong.  You need to let the bourbon and ice sit, so that the syrup and mint can work its way throughout the drink:  naturally the purveyors would have you drink up too fast.  Many of the reputed experts would have you only use the mint as decoration atop the drink, but we say crush a piece or two at the bottom in order to capture the wonderful mint flavor—if you can secure good mint.

Most of our thoughts about perfection are captured on SpiceLines, though you will notice that our colleague there does not favor crushed mint.  We have corresponded with our friend Mark Brown, chief impresario at the Sazerac Company in New Orleans and now proud owner of a whole rash of bourbons, who offers up his recipe:

Approximately 10 sprigs of fresh mint
2 cups of natural spring water
2 cups of granulated sugar
Crushed ice
1 bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon.

Wash and prepare the mint (tear some leaves, leave 6-8 sprigs complete).
 Spread the full mint sprigs in a container. Boil 2 cups water, then add 2
cups sugar.  Keep the mixture at boiling level for 5 minutes. Do not stir.

Making sure to spoon out all the sugar, pour the mixture into the container
(a Tupperware container will suffice) and over the sprigs.  Then sprinkle the
top of the container with loose mint leaves. Cover, and refrigerate
overnight, preferably at least 12 hours.

When it’s time, pour some crushed ice into a glass, then add bourbon to

Eight Belles.  The Kentucky Derby was almost fun.  But at the end, the filly Eight Belles collapsed, with breaks in both legs, and she had to be put down.  This was heartbreaking and left a bad taste in our mouths, no matter the care with which we bred our juleps.  What this taught us is that breeding practices in the racing industry are not at all sound.  As the Wall Street Journal remarks in “Racing’s Royal Bloodline,” May 2, 2008, pp. W1-W4, “Most racehorses today descend from a stallion named Native Dancer.  Has the sport become too reliant on one set of genes?”  Dancer’s descendants habitually have leg problems, Eight Belles tragically so.  The 2008 Derby chillingly illustrates the horrible dangers of breeding for a few narrow characteristics, eliminating genetic diversity.  We Americans have done the same thing across several species.  With our livestock—where manufacturing principles have come to rule the roost—we are creating pigs, cows, and chickens with little diversity, looking only for increased production.  We run the very real risk of total destruction of one kind of animal or another, since disease can obviously mow down one inbred species.  For whom the bell tolls!

We recommend to your attention the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy which is trying to popularize and conserve heritage breeds.  You will find that the varieties are not only more attractive than the factory mono-breeds fostered in corporate agriculture.  They’re also much better tasting.  For instance, it is very common now to find Berkshires and other interesting kinds of pigs on the tables of finer restaurants.  We cannot begin to tell you of the pleasures afforded by grain fed pigs from small organic farms where the chops are succulent and the country sausage a true wake up call.

Michael Pollan, self-made philosopher about plants and the garden, suggests that we are confronting the same sort of problem in the plant kingdom.  Thinking about potatoes, he suggests that the spectre of famines hangs over us because of diminished genetic variety.  It’s possible to imagine that diseased potatoes and other afflicted vegetables could lay waste to several nations—just as they once did in Ireland, causing starvation and vast emigration. Incidentally, this is the International Year of the Potato.

Food Fight.  Starvation, ranging well beyond Burma, is now becoming frontpage news throughout the world.  In fact, production is in trouble in some countries, and food distribution is a problem the world over. Reports out of a recent food conference in London have dramatized the problem:

Soaring global food prices could unleash a “silent tsunami” that would plunge 100 million people who previously did not require help to buy food into hunger and poverty, the top United Nations food official said at a conference on the growing crisis in London.  “This is the new face of hunger,” the official, Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Program, added.  “The response calls for large-scale, high-level action by the global community.”  She was one of 25 experts in the field who attended the conference hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at his Downing Street office.  Prices for basic foods like rice and wheat have risen rapidly since the last quarter of 2007.”   (“Britain:  World Food Crisis a ‘Silent Tsunami,’” Agence French-Presse,  April 23, 2008) 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations offers a great deal of useful information about the world food crisis, although much of its website is temporarily blocked while it reviews its data.  As has been noted in several publications, the rise in food prices already is threatening stability and security in several parts of the world.  All these developments portend changes in agricultural practices, regulation, and government priorities across the globe.  So far there has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but very little in the way of a concerted effort to develop a global view on what must be done.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  We suspect that what the world needs now is different sorts of guys and gals running the railroad, since the chaps now heading up horse racing, or government, or all sorts of policy bodies seem to be full of cant and yesterday’s solutions, mumbling noble phrases while they themselves feed at the trough behind closed doors.

At times like these we are even tempted to celebrate the rather fun, conspicuously corrupt chaps who offer good theater but who often make no bones about the fact that they are rogues.  They put the lie to our many pontificators who dress up stale nothings in fancy language.  There’s Louisiana’s onetime Governor, Edwin B. Edwards, who stole pretty well but also got a few things done.  He and Huey Long were probably the state’s all-time popular governors, which shows what good taste Cajuns and other Louisianans have.  He was mentor apparently to John Breaux, actually a pretty good Senator, who came up with a national health plan which might have worked and which should have gotten enacted years ago.  Hilary “One Way: My Way” Clinton shot it down, brooking no competitors to her own cosmic health plans which, of course, died aborning.  Today Edwards is doing a little jail time, but he’ll be back.

Edwards was not only smart: he was terribly witty.  For instance, he delivered several zingers to a Republican gubernatorial candidate David Treen:

Before election day, Edwards had joked with reporters: " “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy”.  Edwards zinged Treen many times, once describing Treen as “so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.”  During a gubernatorial debate in 1983, Treen asked Edwards, “How come you talk out of both sides of your mouth?”  Edwards instantly responded, “So people like you with only half a brain can understand me.”  (Wikipedia)

Many of the power ball hitters in golf have proven to be exceptional mavericks.  In the present day, John Daly hits exceptionally long balls, drinks and womanizes and dopes and gets in a few other scrapes.  On the side, he’s even a musician.  Who can fault a man who believes  “nicotine plus caffeine equals protein”?  He describes it all in a memoir My Life in and out of the Rough.

Even more worthy of study is the legendary John Montague, the subject of a new book called The Mysterious Montague.  He played out at the Lakeside Country Club in Burbank, California circa 1930s.  One afternoon he hit 7 out 10 balls right to the green on a 347 yard hole.  “In one wager, Bing Crosby played with his own golf clubs while Montague used a rake, a baseball bat and a shovel.”  Needless to say, Montague won.  (Wall Street Journal, May 10-11, 2008, p. W8).  Grantland Rice, the great sports writer, was amazed at his talent.

Montague never sought publicity but eventually got too much anyway, the subject of a big write up in Time Magazine.  Catching wind of it, police in Oneida, New York snared   him and had him brought back to the Empire State for trial in connection with a robbery and murder there years before, but he got off.  His real name, incidentally, was LaVerne Moore.  Sure glad he changed that.

We suspect our favorite scoundrel was another politician, Major Jimmy Walker of New York City.  Some called him Beau James: he lit up the City during the Jazz Age.  One very smart New York lady nicely contrasted him with some of the Tammany Hall sharpies who later ruled New York  “Ah, Jimmy Walker,” she said, “You knew he was stealing you blind.  But at least he gave you a good time.”

P.S.  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin is quite a fun movie.  Predictably they get their comeuppance.  It’s hard for true-blue scoundrels to keep the game going forever, unless they are politicians.

P.P.S.  When we were young, we hoped Jerseys would take over the dairy world.  The Jersey is an elegant cow, offering delicious milk with high butterfat.  But Guernseys and Holsteins have  prevailed: large cows, they generate a whole lot more milk.  Quantity over quality. Gresham’s Law pretty much tells us that bad currency will drive out good currency every time.  If you truly want luscious ice cream, you will demand Jersey ingredients.

P.P.P.S.  In the fascinating “Ways of Ancient Mexico Reviving Barren Lands,” New York Times, May 13, 2008, we learn how Mexican peasants, pretty much on their own, are scratching a living from lands in San Isidro Tilantongo that erosion has done in, using oxen, reforesting, great compost, and other practices that are contrary to modern corporate agricultural cant.  The Mexican government has pretty much abandoned poor, small farmers, taking them to be too inefficient.  On SpiceLines, our colleagues have essayed on how Don Ruperto Opoch is growing the finest of coffees in Veracruz, focusing always on ancient growing methods:

“Everything we do is organic and natural,” explains Don Ruperto, as he stirs his coffee.  “We plant in the traditional Mexican way, 1,600 plants for each hectare. In Central America, they plant 5,000 per hectare.”  He pauses while Liliana translates for us, anxious that we understand the implications of what he is saying.  “Coffee is very demanding.  It must be grown in the shade, but not of just any tree.  It must be grown under the chalahuite and other arboles de vaina.  When they drop their leaves, it enriches the earth and makes the coffee plants stronger.  I have coffee trees that are 100 years old.”

P.P.P.P.S.  There are all sorts of complex things that will have to be done to really fix the food crisis.  But “Fast Ways to Ease a Global Food Crisis Over the Next Year,” Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2008, p. A2 talks about some of the band aids that can help now.  It basically calls for political pressure to stop hoarding (several countries are stockpiling and holding supplies off world market), to buy locally (cash instead of food grants to poor countries could stimulate local production), to target subsidies to help the poor, and to pressure Japan in particular to export more of its rice stockpiles.

Back to Top of Page

Return to the Index of Letters from the Global Province

Home - About This Site - Contact Us

Copyright 2008 GlobalProvince.com