The IRB Rugby World Cup, the greatest venue for the sport, begins in eight days. I am rooting for the USA Eagles, but my favorite team is the South Africa Springboks, a team with absolutely no flair or tactical nuance in their game. Their "strategy" has been described pejoratively as "subdue and penetrate." They are the most physically aggressive side in any sport I have ever seen — and have been that way for a century. They fight you, they tackle you to oblivion, they run over you, but they rarely (defined as "no more than any other team" since rugby is incredibly violent) play dirty.

Of the sports I have played, rugby most reminds me of the game of life. It is a constant grind and struggle. Physical, mental, and emotional pain are around every corner. I was once blindsided on the side of the face during a match, which both hurt physically and offended my sense of fairness. But you have to focus and hope your teammates can kindly point out the transgressor for suitable retaliation. There is simply no time to become offended or to take things personally. It is too fast a game for that, and diverting your attention to a petty offense dramatically reduces your effectiveness.

You must communicate with your teammates constantly, you must defend them when they are punched, gouged, and cleated at the bottom of a ruck. You cannot be intimidated by foul play or hostile words, or become frustrated when someone bumps into you after the official stops play. It's all gamesmanship.

At the end of the game, all is forgiven. Everyone understands that temperaments during conflict become warped. The person who punched me later walked up to me, bought me a beer, and apologized with sincerity. It's a great sport, filled with incredibly tough and skillful athletes, and a joy to watch.

Ian Brakspear adds:

Rugby is the ultimate in physical challenge. I played for the national team in Rhodesia, then played for five years in South Africa, including two years in one of the hardest competitions in the world, the Currie Cup.

There is a position in the game for everyone, no matter what his physique, size or speed. Back-line players require a lot of speed, especially the wings; fullbacks and fly-halves must be good under the high ball, good in defense and be able to counterattack from turnovers — thus the need to think and size up the game in a split-second as well as the ability to kick the ball prodigious distances.

Tight-forwards come in all shapes and sizes but must be physically strong both with ball in hand, on defense and in the ruck and maul. The front row are usually short and very stocky and are some of the heaviest men on the field and the locks are always tall (at least 6'6")and well-built.

Loose-forwards' physical requirements are somewhere between the backs and the tight five; they lack the speed of the backs and yet are faster than the tight five but not as big or heavy –- their tackle count in the game must be higher than any other player's on the field to be considered effective for their position. Some countries play with a genuine fetcher (for instance, New Zealand's Richie McCaw) but others don't.

Today's games are won on defense, yet the only team to have won the World Cup twice, the Australians, won with their attacking play.

As for the Springboks' (South Africa) chances, I hope we win, but we lack a quality fly-halve, don't have a genuine fetcher in the loose-forwards playing in our "A" side, our rush defense from set-pieces is stale now and teams have figured out ways to beat this. We lack the ability to score from set-pieces and are forced to include some third-rate players — those our government refers to as the "previously disadvantaged." But in our favor we have the best lineout forwards in the world, our defense lines are amongst the best in second phase play, and we can score tries from broken play.

The coach of South Africa, Jake White, is a good friend and was my training partner for a long time. But Jake lacks that "something special" to win this, the fourth most viewed sporting event in the world, as he has never played rugby at a high level, not even club rugby, after winning the Tri-Nations in his first year, 2004 — his winning percentages have gone down every year since. Jake and I have had many late-night debates about strategy and tactics.



The federal tax on each cigar could rise from 5 cents to $10
Published July 17, 2007

It's no mathematical error: The federal government has proposed raising taxes on premium cigars, the kind Newman's family has been rolling for decades in Ybor City, by as much as 20,000 percent.

As part of an increase in tobacco taxes designed to pay for children's health insurance, the nickel-per-cigar tax that has ruled the industry could rise to as much as $10 per cigar.

Now they are trying to take my cigars away! The maximum tax of $10 would destroy most of the manufacturers who rely on relatively high volume sales of $5-$10 cigars. Some good friends of mine will be instantly out of business.

The high-end Fuentes (Opus-X, Forbidden-X, God of Fire, and the Ashton VSG and ESG Lines), Padrons, Davidoffs, and, of course, the $500 Ghurka stick dipped in billion year old cognac, will not be as adversely effected.

A consequence of the higher tax will be even greater demand for the finest Havanas, which would mean everything you buy in Mexico and Canada will be either fake or seconds (lower quality cigars). London, Spain, Switzerland and Dubai are the best in that arena. 

Ryan Carlson muses:

Can cigar smokers tell different brands apart?

Recreational smokers (a few cigars/month) probably couldn't distinguish between most brands but they can definitely tell the difference between a good or bad cigar. There is a large difference in the strength of brands so perhaps that'd be a better reference point.

I have a few favorites and could probably pick them out of a large selection but try not to go beyond a few brands, so I'd be clueless on the rest. 

David Hillman explains:

 I don't know of anyone who can tell brands apart blind, even experts. Cigars are rated in blind tests; the properties are evaluated, just like wine, but that's merely subjective. They're also like wine in that they're made of tobacco of different vintages, from different origins, often blended, and though manufacturers attempt to maintain some consistency, there can be substantial variation, even from cigar to cigar within a box. The proliferation of seed worldwide, such as Honduran tobacco grown from Cuban seed, and variations in aging make the task more difficult as well.

For instance, one of my favorites, Perdomo's La Tradicion Cabinet Series, is constructed of Cuban-seed fillers grown in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua, with an Ecuadorian binder and wrappers from Connecticut. Their milder line, Tobaccos San Jose, uses a blend of fillers from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Brazil, binders from the Dominican Republic and Connecticut wrappers. The bolder Dos Rios line is primarily Nicaraguan filler with some Dominican Republic tobacco as well, the binder is Nicaraguan, the wrappers Ecuadorian. There are sub-series within the Cabinet Series, as well as the limited Champagne sub-sub-editions, so there's great variation within brands, too.

Moreover, cigars can/will acquire aromas and tastes of those they're next to in the humidor, so it's important to separate them from one another. Also, as with wine, good cigars improve over time, becoming smoother, more flavorful and complex with age if stored properly. I believe it might possible to tell a frequently smoked cigar with a reasonable consistency apart from others in the blind. I'm nowhere near good enough and don't smoke enough to with regularity, but I might have a better chance than the average Swisher Sweets smoker of batting, let's say, 2%. On the other hand, expert Grade seven rollers and master blenders are certainly capable of carefully examining a cigar and determining the type of tobacco used and its origin — is it a Cuban Cohiba or a Nicaraguan El Fako?

A novice wanting a good, reasonably priced smoke might sample a Monte Cristo #3, the Perdomo La Tradicion Cabinet Series R Champagne Robusto, or the La Flor Dominicana #100 (Tubo), all about $8.00 per. There are many others, these are simply a few that suit me.

All this talk of puros has gotten me fired up, but one last thing in this regard before I head out to the deck to chomp on one of the said Tubo #100s: It would be wise to refrain from entering into a high-stakes blind cigar tasting with a certain former world leader (whom I revere for his ingenuity in tobbaconistic matters). He may very well have found a sure-fire way to gain an advantage in distinguishing his 'brand' from all others in a blind taste test.

Aaron Krizik responds:

A lot of parallels can be drawn to oenology. I am highly confident I can tell the difference between branded cigars from Nicaragua vs. the Dominican Republic and certainly Cuba, but I doubt I could tell the difference between 10 randomly selected Cubans. It's easy to tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon, but 10 randomly selected Merlots would be a challenge for most wine drinkers.

A Nicaraguan cigar like a Padron is just completely different from an Ashton with Dominican filler and a gorgeous "shade" wrapper from Connecticut. I could easily tell the difference between the two — or any other cigar I regularly smoke. Tobacco from Esteli, Nicaragua is simply very different from Vuelta Abajo tobacco from Cuba.

Larry Williams remarks:

With appologies to Guy Clark

Too much smoking gives you cancer
Too much cocaine's not the answer

Too much invested just on margin
Too many lawyers come in chargin'

 Mike Desaulniers extends:

I got back from two weeks in the motherland on Sunday. Caught some excellent weather in Vancouver, and not one local offered me any BC smoking material. My record for unsolicited offers walking through Washington Square Park in New York (granted, on the diagonal) was five.

There were huge displays of patriotism on Canada Day, more than I ever remember on previous visits. Everyone in the West End (downtown residential) had flags out windows. I saw more than one group walking on Robson St. shopping district, singing Oh Canada. It was quite striking. The Canadian dollar's rally must be going to their heads, eh?



The Interval of Observation

Ben Jacobsen, Massey University - Department of Commerce, Ben R. Marshall, Massey University - Department of Finance, Nuttawat Visaltanachoti, Massey University. February 2007

Abstract: We revisit Kendall's (1953) conclusion that "the interval of observation may be very important". Contrary to his other conclusions on return predictability, this conclusion has received surprisingly little attention. Most tests in finance and economics routinely regress daily, weekly and monthly observations on daily, weekly and monthly observations, respectively. This is especially surprising because, while convenient, this convention lacks economic reasoning in many applications. Using similar data to Kendall (commodity prices and US, UK and World Stock Market indices) we show how conclusions regarding stock market return predictability vary drastically once we deviate from this convention. Even more surprising: conclusions whether or not stock returns are predictable fluctuate strongly for almost similar intervals of observation. In other words, had the "Demon of Chance" in 1953 offered Kendall slightly different intervals of observation, Kendall might have concluded that stock market returns were predictable.



I am sitting in a cigar bar in Orland Park, IL right now with a view to the (largest I have ever seen) humidor, the center of which prominently displays "Ghurka" brand cigars that are $500 per stick. The only other cigars I know of that can come close to this are the pre-embargo Cubans (recalling Kennedy who began the embargo and purchased 10,000 of his favorite cigars prior to announcing same) and the aforesaid Cohibas.

$500 for a cigar is asinine, but I imagine I will see someone smoking one sometime soon while despereately scanning the room to see if anyone notices he has the most expensive cigar ever. It's just impossible for a cigar to be 100 times "better" than something you get at your local smoke shop.

The Cuban cigars are inconsistent, as the soil has been suffering for years from deteriorating farming infrastructure, ageing and defecting rollers, bunchers, etc. That said, there is no better cigar than a good Cuban. The "Ghurka" brand is made by another cigar company, Turano. It's purely a marketing thing, as are most cigars.


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