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The Best Red Wines in the World for Under $10

Posted by on Jan 28, 2016 in Blog, Essays | 8 comments




I’m about to embark on an impossible task.

Given all the tasty wine bargains nowadays, narrowing down so many wonderful choices from all parts of the world into a “Top Ten” list is sure to omit some very deserving candidates.  Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to recommend wines I deem to have been reliable for many years, and are consistently priced below what one might expect given the quality.  In particular, I’ll be seeking out wines that tend to drink into what I call a “higher class.”  In other words, in a blind taste test it’s unlikely most drinkers would be able to distinguish the affordable wine that I’ve selected from something far more expensive.

What follows is my list of favorite red wines currently which are listed at $10 per bottle or less in most stores (YMMV).  This list of red wines includes — Cabernet Sauvignon, Pino Noir, Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz), Sangiovese, Barbera, and Merlot.  To no one’s surprise, not a single Merlot made my list.  Also, despite their popularity, I’m also not a fan of wines from Italy or Australia.  I tend to like full-bodied reds with lots of rich character and at least some measure of complexity.

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The $188,000-Dollar Bill (What Happened to Binion’s Horseshoe’s Famous Million-Dollar Collection?)

Posted by on Jan 26, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas | 11 comments




Who would dare spend $188,000 on something that’s worth only $10,000 at face value?

An anonymous bidder at a Florida auction house recently purchased one of the rarest novelties of United States currency that’s ever been minted.  Only about 300 of these so-called “bearer banknotes” are known to exist.  They are so rare that most people probably wouldn’t be able to identify the face on the bill.  Yet, there’s a good chance many of you reading this article have seen and even stood alongside one-hundred of these banknotes in pristine condition, unaware that collection represented about one-third of all such bills in the world.  You may gave even had your photo taken with this one, which was sold.  Although they do remain legal tender, the U.S. Treasury Department began pulling the banknotes from circulation in 1969.  What remains out there has been snapped up by collectors.  That’s what makes them so rare.

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Pursuing Unfinished Thoughts

Posted by on Jan 25, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 14 comments


Head in Hands


Every so often, I’m afflicted with “writer’s block.”

From what I hear among other writers, this is fairly a common condition.  One cannot write consistently for several years without faithfully going to the well and occasionally coming up with an empty pail.  Sometimes, the source runs dry.

“Writer’s block” is mental state.  It’s debilitating and can even be depressing — especially to a writer!  It’s like trying to speak, only the words won’t come out.  Call it a literary stutter.

My past bouts with writer’s block were almost always sprung by a bombardment of way too many thoughts all at once.  It’s not as though there’s nothing to write about.  To the contrary — I always find there’s far too much out there that interests me — including things that make me go ballistic, or provide tremendous joy (and everything in-between).  Most writers like to share their discoveries, experiences, and emotions, and I’m no exception.

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NFL Conference Championship Games (Selections and Analysis)

Posted by on Jan 24, 2016 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments




Last week, I posted two plays on Facebook.  Both were winners.  However, only one of the selections was posted prior to game time (Denver on the moneyline).  So, only that pick will be recorded and credited with my season-long record.  I also had Seattle-Denver on a teaser (which won).  That explains the updated record going into these week’s two conference championship games which is now ahead for the year in the amount of $2,565.

I have three picks for this week’s Conference Championship games, which are posted below.

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Do “Black Oscars Matter?”

Posted by on Jan 23, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments




Twisting what’s become a current popular political slogan — do “Black Oscars Matter?”

I believe the answer is — yes.  The Academy Awards are widely perceived as one of society’s most important cultural benchmarks of racial equality, particularly on Black and White issues.  Along with its consortium in politics and sports  — including who occupies the Oval Office and Black starting quarterbacks in the National Football League (undeniably two major arenas where Blacks have broken down old barriers) — those we chose to recognize as icons in the entertainment industry may indicate some lingering collective biases.

Controversy erupted again last week when this year’s Academy Award nominations were announced.  For the second consecutive year, no Blacks were nominated in any of the so-called major categories.  Some Black activists and advocacy groups expressed outrage at what was perceived as not merely an oversight but an affront.  A few celebrities even pledged to boycott the Oscars.  Instead of discussing the most deserving nominees and celebrating artistic achievement in cinema, the movie industry’s alleged racial inequities have now taken center stage and captured much of the media’s attention.  Clearly, this is not what Hollywood had in mind for the entertainment industry’s premier showcase event.

Do the protesters have a point?  I believe the answer is — a little bit yes, but mostly no.

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Bernie Sanders’ “America”

Posted by on Jan 22, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments




Sometimes, less is more.

Bernie Sanders unveiled his new television commercial today, which is targeted towards voters in Iowa.  I just saw it for the first time.  That state will be holding the first party caucuses, now less than two weeks away.

The ad is a major diversion both style and substance from what we’re used to seeing from Sanders’ campaign.  Until now, Sanders has mostly deadpanned a deeply serious, some might even say scholarly approach to the major issues, which reveals an unwavering sense of personal conviction.  Typically, his campaign speeches are packed with mind-numbing percentages and lots of statistics — which is probably something we need to know and hear — but also frankly, which is not exactly an inspiring vision for the types of voters who just want to feel good about their future.  Indeed, Sanders seems to have resisted the notion of “being sold” to the electorate, an unorthodox strategy which likely accounts for his continuing surge in the polls which show he’s now ahead of rival Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire.  He also refuses to “go negative.”

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21st Century Snake Oil in a Capsule (or “The Vitamins You Take Could be Killing You”)

Posted by on Jan 21, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments



Could two-thirds of the products sold in stores like this be completely worthless?


Of the more than 54,000 dietary supplement products….only about a third have some level of safety and effectiveness that is supported by scientific evidence….(and) close to 12 percent have been linked to safety concerns or problems with product quality.

— Consumer Reports


Each and every day, more than half of us ingest some kind of vitamin and/or dietary supplement.

Yet, a significant percentage of these so-called “health and nutrition products” amounts to garbage.  Worse, a shockingly high percentage of the tablets and capsules we gulp down by the hundreds of millions which have undergone testing reveals a shameful discovery:  Most produce no health benefits whatsoever, nor have they proven to ameliorate the various health conditions and medical symptoms they claim to improve.  Worse still, many these bottled toxins are dangerous.  Some can even be deadly.

That’s quite a claim, so now I’ll try and back it up.

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Where Are All the Hillary Clinton Supporters?

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments




A puzzling void has emerged within the 2016 presidential race which is this:  I can’t find a single voter who enthusiastically supports Hillary Clinton.

Oh, I’m sure they’re out there — in the millions.  According to recent polls, she’s still the most popular candidate in terms of overall national support.  The trouble is, I can’t identify a single soul by name who openly supports her.  It’s sort of like trying to find someone who will admit they watch a bad television show.  Call it a political closet case.

The questions are — could it simply be me?  Or, could it be something else?  Might Hillary Clinton have an enormous problem on her hands as the primary season gets underway?

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LA Story (El Cholo Mexican Restaurant)

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments




When I first heard El Cholo was the favorite late-night hangout for actor Jack Nicholson right after Laker games, I knew this was the place to visit.

a6507c0329a9654a90a17cad05b23610El Cholo first opened up in 1923.  It was founded by Mexican immigrants who nurtured their family business and handed down secret recipes over multiple generations to the present day.  Nearing a full century in business, El Cholo has since expanded outward to other locations throughout Southern California.  However, the original flagship restaurant location remains at 1121 S. Western Avenue, just a short distance from downtown Los Angeles.

There’s lots to love about El Cholo, which has varied meanings in the Spanish language — from “peasant farmer” in some Latino regions to what’s regarded as a derogatory term, particularly in Peru.  Jack Nicholson’s tastes and his endorsement aside, there were a number of things which attracted me to try out this historic location, most of all its authenticity and obvious recognition of its heritage.

Legend has it that the dish we all know as “nachos” was introduced here during the 1950’s.  According to El Cholo’s restaurant history which is posted on the wall in the lobby area, a former waitress named Carmen Rocha crafted nachos in San Antonio, before moving later on and introducing the dish to Los Angeles at El Cholo, where she worked up through 1959.

IMAG1692 - EditedOne of the most impressionable things about El Cholo is the “Louis Zamperini Room,” which is named after the Los Angeles native who was once an Olympic athlete (competing in the 1936 Games held in Berlin) who later enlisted in the U.S. Army-Air Corps, was shot down over the Pacific Ocean, miraculously made what was then the longest survival on a life raft on the open sea in history, only to be followed by capture, imprisonment, and torture in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan during World War II.  If this story sounds familiar, last year’s movie “Unbroken,” based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand was based on Zamperini’s life.  Any place that honors such a remarkable man in this special way with his own dining room, complete with photos of the genuine hero who died last year at age 97 merits a visit in my estimation.  [Note:  My review of Hillenbrand’s book can be read HERE]

With so much going for it, I really wanted to like El Cholo.  But blatant honesty can be a painful thing.  Unfortunately, I probably won’t repeat as a customer.  I can’t recommend this historic establishment for at least a couple of reasons.  Before I get to these critiques, first here are a few positives.

IMAG1691 (1)El Cholo makes a fantastic margarita on the rocks.  I ordered the house specialty, which was splendid.  Everything about this staple of Mexican cuisine was perfect, from the generous portion served, to the kosher salt on the outer rim, to the frothy shaken ambiance atop the cocktail, to the float of Triple Sec, to the exceptional lime-based mixer which was as good as any margarita I’ve ever had outside of Dallas.

The layout of the restaurant and ambiance as also quite pleasant.  The adobe architecture throughout — both inside and out — which divides several rooms into different sections provides for an unexpected quaintness, even though this is a large-scale operation capable of serving hundreds of covers at a time.  One gets the feeling that a discovery has been made — a nice quiet restaurant no one else knows about, although that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

The food is also pretty good.  Not great, but generally pleasing.  I say this having enjoyed so many Mexican meals in so many different cities that I’ve now lost count.  Yes, I do know what great Mexican food is — and on a scale of 1-10, this gets a solid “7.”  My dinner included two beef enchiladas rolled in corn tortillas.  I also ordered the New Mexico-style green chili sauce (not a fan of the usual red sauce), which gives the dish a bit more kick.  I added a chicken taco.  The platter came with the customary rice and refried beans.  The standard chips and salsa were fine (chips were warm, a good sign).  Salsa was a bit of a bore — nothing special.

So, where did El Cholo go wrong?  Here are two criticisms.

First, the service was atrocious.  I felt like the invisible man during most of my one-hour stay.  I waited for what seemed like forever to get served.  Then, the waiter barely came around at all.  I was forced to rely on a busboy who didn’t speak much English (most of the staff were Mexicans).  Contrary to what I often write, I tend to be very tolerant of slow service and miscues.  However, this entire episode was unnecessary and unforgivable.  The restaurant wasn’t busy (I dined late in the afternoon).  But each time I needed something, a member of the staff would be around but never make eye contact (something which drives me crazy).  I resorted to shouting at one point in order to get someone’s attention.  One supposes that Jack Nicholson never had to resort to these measures.

Whack!  Here’s Joooohny!

IMAG1698 - EditedSecond, was the lack of value.  The bill finally arrived (after considerable begging for the waiter’s attention), which amounted to a whopping $35.45 for one patron.  Seriously, who in the hell spends $35 on Mexican food, with just one drink and no frills?  $35?  I could have eaten in Chinatown for a week and bought extra lottery tickets for that amount.  I did some quick calculations and the enchiladas must have run about $20 (about 33 percent higher than average elsewhere based on my experience), plus another $6 for a chicken taco, then $10 for a margarita.   In hundreds if not thousands of meals over the years, I may have tipped less than 20 percent only a handful of times, but given the non-existent waiter and being engulfed with neglect from start to finish, I tossed two $20 bills on the table and stormed out.  Fuck it.

What a shame.  El Cholo should be much better than this.  Based on the utter lack of value combined with the abominable service, I must strongly recommend dining elsewhere.  There must be hundreds of Latino-themed restaurants in and around Los Angeles which are far superior.  Next time, I’ll embark on that discovery.


Postscript:  Special thanks to Jessica Welman, who once lived in Los Angeles and graduated from USC which is close by.  She recommended El Cholo based on its reputation but was also careful to warn me that it might not be the same place that it once was.  Welman, who previously recommended Philippe the Original to me (another Los Angeles institution) remains undefeated in her culinary assessment.  [READ MY REVIEW OF PHILIPPE THE ORIGINAL HERE]  


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Van Morrison’s Concert was Terrible (and I Loved Every Note of It)

Posted by on Jan 18, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 4 comments


Screenshot 2016-01-17 at 2.05.00 PM - Edited


“I’m an introvert in a business of extroverts….which is kinda’ a big problem.”

— Van Morrison


Van Morrison’s concert on the night of January 15th, 2016 at the famed Shrine Auditorium on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles was terrible.  And, I loved every single note of it.

Here, I’ll explain.

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