Out of the Humidor

Dear Marvin,

I want to thank you and Mr. Douglas Doan for the article in the April issue about his homegrown tobacco. It has left a lasting impression on me. In this fast-paced society, people would rather go out and buy things instead of taking the time and doing it themselves. Nobody seems to have any time to just relax and have a good time.

For Christmas last year, my wife gave me materials for making beer at home. My new beer machine sat in my basement for two months before I finally set it up. It was the April issue of CA that put a fire under my butt.

Mr. Doan appeared to be stressed, overworked and compulsive about his first venture at cigar making. I thought, "How could he possibly be having a good time?" Despite all of the hard work and expense, in the end he was very pleased with the results. Inspired by that, I thought, "Why not give it a shot and put Miller out of business?"

I started making beer. The first batch was in the works, and my wife was going crazy because I obsessed about it constantly. I turned into a nervous, compulsive mess. Despite the stress, I, like Mr. Doan, was having a ball. I have never felt so much satisfaction in doing something.

The day finally came when I could try my first batch. Let's just say Miller has nothing to worry about. Despite the setback, I proceeded to refine my recipe by surfing for more information on the Net, and started on two new batches so I could have even more fun!

Good luck with the cigars, Mr. Doan. I will keep an eye out for your "Virginia Blues" at my local shop, and hopefully one day, you will see some of my Basset Beer, named after my dog Sherlock, at your local liquor store.

Mike Wozny

Jessup, Maryland


Dear Marvin,

At the age of 45 and with 25 years, 9 months and 6 days of service, I opted for an early retirement and buyout from the federal government. Other than my first year as a mail clerk at the Veterans Administration (ask any vet for his thoughts about the VA), the remainder of my career was in information technology for various agencies within the Department of Defense. I worked at my last command 16 years. Joseph Nye Jr.'s article "The Quiet Crisis in Public Service" [June 2001] validated some of my experiences during the last five years of my career.

While completing an individual training plan for the next fiscal year during the summer of 1999, I was informed there might not be any funding. My final year's training did not include anything related to the IT field. On the other hand, I did receive politically correct training mandatory for all personnel, including prevention of sexual harassment, HIV and diversity training.

Since retiring, I began a second career at the state level and was shocked at how much more technologically advanced my agency is over the military activity I left in December 1999. And I was not alone. Several key members of my old base's IT staff have left for the private sector, although they did not have the 25 years minimum service required for an early retirement.

Mismanagement in the public sector is rampant. Once admitted to the "Good Ol' Boys' Club," incompetent managers are protected and rotated through various departments and organizations regardless of lack of experience in that area or previous poor performance. Yet, advancement for others is slow. I went from a GS-2 mail clerk to a GS-11 computer specialist in 21 years, even with many semester hours of college on my own time and at my own expense. In my experience, veterans' preference was rarely a significant factor in promotions. In some cases, I believe being a vet hurt those applying for promotion.

Morale began a drastic downturn in the mid-1990s. Before then, most of my co-workers and I actually enjoyed our work and felt productive. I have maintained contact with friends who are still feds. Morale continues to decline.

Pay was dramatically increased for those in the computer specialist series in the federal government, ostensibly to be competitive with the private sector. This is at the same time that that series is being cost-analyzed for outsourcing in many agencies. Coincidence? Staffing reductions due to attrition result in more work for those who remain, because of years-long hiring or promotion freezes. Many workers are simply marking time, hoping they reach minimum eligibility for retirement before their positions are outsourced or their agency is closed or consolidated. Others are submitting résumés. Perhaps the system is too broken to repair.

During my son's undergraduate years, he worked as a summer hire at another Department of Defense agency on base. After completing grad school, a federal career is not on his agenda.

Tony Gonzalez Sr.

Gardners, Pennsylvania


Dear Marvin,

Enjoyed the write-up on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and his liaison with Mafia chieftain Meyer Lansky [June 2001]. With this strange courtship between dictator and Mafia, it was only logical that the Cuban populace would be outraged due to the money they were bringing in for the rich and neglecting to distribute to the poor. It was a crook's paradise, since venture capitalists need not comply with a background check. The sad truth was that the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. Things became ripe for Fidel Castro to take over. Even though Castro had a communist regime, it was beneficial for the poor. This is why he received so much support. Lansky is lucky he left Cuba when he did, because I wouldn't have any doubt that Castro would have executed him. Castro flexed his muscle to the Mafia and won out and showed his bravado by closing the casinos in 1960.

Nannette "Nan" Wahleithner

Lincoln, California


Dear Marvin,

As a guy who doesn't buy exotic cars, million-dollar boats, or has someone who buys my wardrobe for me, I look to your publication for information about cigars. Your June issue had a lot of info about Cuban cigars and I really enjoyed it.

I smoked my first Cohiba, a gift from my dad, when I finished grad school. It was a mindblower. Once I had one, I never could smoke anything else. Even today, I still enjoy a Coronas Especiales, and I've smoked every brand of Cuban cigar since then; but the quality has changed. I have about 30 boxes of Cubans in my humidor, some from the late 1980s to mid-'90s and some newer ones. The difference between the older ones and the newer ones is huge! The article about the quality of the current Cuban products is correct. Although brands such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Partagas are nicely constructed and burn beautifully, the newer ones all smoke the same. They are good, at best. Even the Cohiba Esplendido, a cigar by which all others were compared, has changed. I smoke at least 15 cigars per week, some of them Cubans, yet my favorite is the Nicaraguan Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Maduro Torpedo.

I have experienced the difficult draw, the ammonia odor and the bland taste in the past few years with some Cuban purchases that I've made. My cigars with five to 10 years of box age are noticeably better. With all of the fakes out there, I wonder if today's Cuban cigar is really worth the hassle. I have several boxes of the new Edicion Limitadas and the cigars are good smokes, but hopefully will get much better with several years of aging. The jury is out on Cuban cigars, in my opinion. I look to your publication to continue to lead the way with advice, reviews and suggestions regarding enjoying the ever-changing world of fine cigars.

Lou Iadone

Walden, New York


Dear Marvin,

As the editor of a magazine that I believe stands for, among other things, personal liberty and freedom, and against intrusive government, I think you need to make better choices for writers of the Insights politics section. In both your February and April issues the columns were, in my opinion, against the above principles.

Take Mr. Timothy E. Wirth's diatribe on the greatness of the United Nations in your February issue. I couldn't disagree with him more. In fact, I feel that the United States should not pay another dime to this organization. While it is easy to consider the U.N. a benign and diverse assembly of well-meaning people, with its four-point charter seeking international peace, friendly relations, human rights and "harmonizing" the actions of nations, this is not the case. The U.N. is really for a far less-free world. The U.N. is moving far beyond its original charter and is now acting as the keeper of worldwide standards, everything from water quality to firearms ownership to telecommunications. Much of this work is done via a totally closed process. Do we want to be part of an organization that tries to enforce its will on the sovereignty of the United States? Do the people at the U.N. know better than our own Constitution? And why should U.S. soldiers, who have taken an oath to defend this country and only this country, be put under the command of foreign officers? The U.N. is an organization far out of control and believes in many policies that are contrary to the principles of this country.

Then we have the article by Mr. Tom Wicker in the April issue. In this thinly veiled attempt to write a balanced article about the transition from one administration to the next, Mr. Wicker has succeeded in using your magazine as a soapbox to bash President George W. Bush in specific and Republicans in general. He defines compromise as giving in on what you believe and feels that President Bush should have started his presidency by giving in on his principles. I believe that a person is elected because of what he stands for (regardless of the margin of victory) and the people have a right to expect that he will do the things he says he is going to do when elected. That is EXACTLY what President Bush has done. Why vote for a person, if you know that as soon as he is in office he will abandon what he has promised? Haven't we had enough of that in recent years?

Wicker goes on to insult President Bush by saying Vice President Dick Cheney is "look[ing] more and more like the quarterback of the new Bush administration." I could go on and on from his bashing of President Bush's appointments to suggesting that the so-called "religious right" caused the president not to appoint Democrats and liberals to high office. Why should President Bush appoint anyone who does not share his views to high office? This whole concept is ludicrous! Did ex-President Clinton ever appoint a conservative to high office? The whole article was so full of liberal pap it made me sick! Once again, I suggest that you pick your contributors more carefully so that the essence of Cigar Aficionado is not diluted.

Dominick Cassone

Northborough, Massachusetts


Editor's note: Thank you for your letter. Our Insights columns are not based on any political agenda. Rather, we offer viewpoints from across the political spectrum to provide food for thought and discussion.


Dear Marvin:

Thank God you have written yet another story on Cuba! I really enjoy the repeated focus on travel opportunities that do not exist for myself and most Americans. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed the May '99 edition outlining the Cuban embargo, political perspectives and the opinions of Americans born or having relatives in Cuba. It was very educational the first time. However, it was frustrating to see 38 percent of your last edition again dedicated to Cuba, not to mention other recent articles. What is the point in highlighting the Cuban nightlife, tobacco country, investments and resorts when it is illegal for Americans to travel there or invest? I'm sure this information is critical for Mr. Suckling to travel around Cuba sucking on Cuban smokes, but I found your detailed list of hotels and restaurants of no value. Your "Getting There" article seemed to say, "Well, you aren't allowed to go there, but you should anyway."

My pet rock and I were arguing over why you choose to focus on Cuba yet again. He says it's because of your magazine's connections with advertisers and other political interests you are pursuing on their behalf. But I say it was some other reason, perhaps because of your magazine's new format and target audience, where the topic of Cuba has high readership interest. So why the emphasis? It can't be out of reverence to Cuba, where the "best" cigars are still made. I would bet James, and most other readers would agree, that Cuban cigars aren't a good value compared to Dominican, Honduran and others made today.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading your magazine is to gain insight into the activities and lifestyles, some that I cannot currently afford, but may someday. I like your recent change towards more lifestyle content as well. But your repeated focus on Cuba is tiresome. I also believe a person shouldn't complain unless they put forth some suggestions. So I have two: either rename your magazine Cuba Aficionado, or focus instead on travel to other countries where my passport and visa will work.

Greg Schultz

Colorado Springs, Colorado