The Beer Of Belize

It seems like every place you go in the Caribbean has its own beer.  Why not?  Few things complement blazing sunshine and the smell of salt water and cocoa butter quite like a cold beer in a bottle beaded with condensation, one you can roll in your hands as you feel the tropical breeze and hear the rush of the surfing sand.

I’ve had Carib, Piton, Sands, Kalik, and more Caribbean beers that I’ve forgotten.  Belikin, the Belizean contribution to the brewing arts, fits right in.  Like the rest, it’s a lager, crisp and clean and with a nice finishing tang, well-suited to rinsing that salt water residue off your lips and easing you into the evening.

Caribbean Colors 

Kish and I came to Belize to get away from the grayness of a Columbus, Ohio winter.  We haven’t had to worry about snow this year, but we’ve had the standard dose of overcast skies that makes everything seem flat and monochromatic.

For people looking to restore a dash of color to their lives, Belize is just what the doctor ordered.  The buildings at our resort are painted bright colors; in fact, rather than room numbers each cabin goes by its color.  (Ours is “aqua.”).  The same is true of buildings in town.  The boats and floats are every color of the rainbow, the pool is a bright blue, and the radiating sunshine brings out every hue.  People wear bright clothing, and even the drinks at the bar seemingly are made with a goal of giving the rods and cones in your eyeballs a good workout.

It’s really nice to see bright colors for a change.

Authentic Belizean

Today Kish and I cycled to the outskirts of San Pedro Town to meet up with the Fellow Readers for lunch.  With the intrepid Mr. FR at the wheel of their golf cart, we cruised through the bustling streets of San Pedro in search of authentic Belizean cuisine, and found it at a place called El Fogon, where the food is cooked on an old open stove and you sit at wooden picnic tables carefully positioned to maximize your exposure to a large fan.  All of the produce used in the food preparation is kept in baskets and crates right by the stove, next to the kindling.

Mr. FR and I both got the stewed chicken with beans and rice.  It was a wise decision.  The chicken was fall off the bone tender and delicately seasoned and went perfectly with the moist beans and rice, all washed down with the local beer.  You could add to the spice level with a homemade salsa that would burn your lips, but I opted for the basic seasoning — reasoning that hot sauce would only up my beer intake and leave me less capable of navigating past the potholes on our five-mile bike ride home.

Beach Reads

When you’re on a beach vacation, having a good book to read — or maybe, say, five of them — is essential.  On this trip I’ve enjoyed Bill Bryson’s wonderful, funny, and fascinating book about the summer of 1927 and the latest Harry Bosch book by Michael Connelly, and I’ve got two books of short stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes and a non-fiction book about Wall Street greed in queue.

I love books with continuing characters and their adventures, so when a new Connelly Bosch book appears I snap it up.  There’s only one problem:  I can’t put them down.  I zip through them, relish every word and Boschian revelation, and immediately am hungry for more.  I hope Connelly, and Bosch, live until they’re 120.

The Perils Of Plastic

We’re staying at a terrific little beachside resort on Ambergris Caye in Belize.  It offers snug, thatch-roofed cottages, excellent food, a beautiful beach, and an infinity pool, among many other amenities.  Every day, resort workers rake the sand, cart away excess sea grass that has washed ashore, and leave the beach in the pristine, white sand state that resort-goers demand.

Just down the Caye, however, is an unattended section of beach, and here we get a glimpse of the impact of our plastic, disposable, consumer culture.  Belize lies at the western end on the Caribbean, where the prevailing winds blow.  On this section of beach every imaginable bit of disposable debris — a huge range of differently sized bottles, jugs, tubs, bits of strofoam, storage containers, and even soccer balls — have collected on the sand, mingled with the sea grass.  It’s disgusting, and unsightly, but mostly it’s sad.  Whether through thoughtlessness or inadvertence, the human plastic culture has left its ugly mark on an otherwise pretty beach on a fine, sunny morning.  If one small section of beach is bears this gross collection of crap, we can’t really begin to imagine the impact of the junk on the sea as a whole.

On The Bumpy Road To San Pedro Town

This morning we had a hearty breakfast, then decided to borrow some bicycles from our resort and pedal the five miles south to San Pedro.  Our bikes were of the old-fashioned, balloon-tired, single-gear, pedal brake variety, with a top seated cruising speed of about 5 mph.  (Standing, you might get it up to about 10 mph, and give your keister a respite, besides.)

The design of the bikes turned out to be welcome for two reasons.  First, there’s lots of interesting things to see on any tropical roadway, and if you zip by too quickly you’ll miss some of it.  Second, the road was unabashedly rustic in spots, and too much speed would do nothing but produced bruised kidneys and sore wrists.  Slow moving, wide-tired bikes that could navigate between the potholes were the preferred mode of transportation — better than small cars, golf carts, or even motor scooters.


On our ten-mile round trip we learned that Minnesota is not only the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but also a brand to be reckoned with in the dentistry field in Belize.  We rolled past condos under construction and dive bars on the beachfront, learned that bikes aren’t subject to the apparently occasional toll charged to cross the bridge north of town,  were mystified by the exchange rate between Belizean and U.S. dollars, and for refreshment bought warm fresh water delivered in a sealed plastic bag.  All were part of the many charms of the bumpy road to San Pedro town.

Via Tropic Air

Kish and I decided to get away from the grey Columbus skies for a few days and chose Belize as our destination.  Tropic Air is one of the local airlines, along with Maya Airlines.  We and a dozen other passengers took this sturdy propeller plane across the bay to Ambergris Caye.  I’m used to prop planes that make an ungodly racket, but this plane was remarkably quiet.

You really know you’re in the Caribbean when you cross over that sparkling, crystal clear, blue-green water.

The (Invisible) Empire Strikes Back

You hear a lot about federal employees who comprise the so-called “Deep State” these days.  They apparently don’t like the new President or his policies, and they’re concerned about what he’s going to do to their jobs.

top-secretSo, at least some of those federal employees apparently are doing what any honest, “merit-hired,” politically neutral “civil servants” would do — they’re figuring out ways to undercut the new Administration’s agenda, “slow walk” proposals, and otherwise thwart policy changes.  Politico calls it “the revenge of the bureaucrats,” and notes that the principal weapons of the “Deep State” are carefully aimed leaks, efforts to have the inspector generals of agencies investigate political appointees, and using “the tools of bureaucracy to slow or sandbag policy proposals.”  Is it any coincidence that, since the new Administration took office, leaks seem to have come fast and furious?

This is an interesting issue, because there’s a fine line between the right of federal bureaucrats to exercise their First Amendment rights and the need to have workers who will blow the whistle on misconduct, on the one hand, and the actions of politicized employees who simply don’t agree with the direction the new Administration is taking and want to try to use their special positions to stop it, on the other.  It may be a fine line, but it should be a clear line, with the former being acceptable but the latter not.  Federal employees aren’t elected, and their views of what is the best course aren’t entitled to more weight than, say, the people who voted and elected the new Administration in the first place.  Career bureaucrats shouldn’t be permitted to use passive-aggressive methods to block policy changes just because they disagree with them.

The “Deep State” employees might think they’re clever in playing a backroom game of leaks and bureaucratic maneuvers, but it’s a dangerous game for them, too — if people get the sense that the federal workforce is hopelessly politicized, it’s going to continue the long decline in public trust in government, and ultimately people who might otherwise protect the federal employees from cuts won’t do so.  The whole notion of civil service is that the federal workforce shouldn’t be political, and instead should be comprised of knowledgeable, experienced career employees ready to implement the policies of whichever Administration may take office.  If the workers themselves demonstrate that they are politicized, what’s the point of the civil service in the first place?

Porn On The Federal Payroll

A television station in Washington, D.C. sent a Freedom of Information Act request to 12 federal agencies.  The FOIA request, directed to the inspector generals of the 12 agencies, sought records of cases of “egregious on-the-job pornography” viewing by federal employees at the 12 agencies.

lawmaker-calls-to-block-federal-employees-porn-accessIn response, the inspector generals produced records showing that almost 100 federal employees at the 12 agencies were caught, or admitted to, watching vast amounts of porn while at work.  One employee, at the Environmental Protection Agency offices in Washington, D.C., said he had spent up to six hours a day watching porn for “several years.”  A patent and trademark employee at the Department of Commerce was found to have made 1,800 connections to pornographic websites and told investigators, by way of explanation:  “When I am working hard, I go to these images to take a mental break.”  A worker at the Federal Railroad Administration was found to have searched for porn for 252 hours in one year.  And some of the cases addressed in the inspector general records were criminal in nature, because they involved viewing child pornography.

Watching porn on the job apparently falls within the category of “computer misuse,” which is subject to different penalties at different federal agencies, with sanctions ranging from a written reprimand to suspensions and termination.  As one deputy assistant inspector general put it, the computer systems, and the employees, are supposed to be performing government work while on the job, and checking out porn instead constitutes some of the “waste, fraud, and abuse” we taxpayers often hear politicians talk about.  Notably, the TV station report provides no information on whether disciplinary action was taken against the supervisors of the employee who says he spent six hours a day watching porn on his work computer for several years without being detected, or whether the EPA concluded that his job clearly wasn’t necessary and could be eliminated.

About 100 employees out of the vast payrolls of the 12 federal agencies obviously isn’t a huge percentage; you’re going to find a few “bad apples” in just about any workplace.  But the TV station FOIA request was targeted specifically at “egregious” porn viewing, and the fact that federal employees can spend hours watching porn on the job watching pornography, undetected, just adds fuel to the budget-cutting and payroll-cutting fire.  President Trump’s budget plans already have federal employees worried that federal payrolls are going to be slashed.  Don’t be surprised if, in the debate about downsizing the federal government, bureaucratic porn-watching habits get trotted out as a talking point.

A Year Without Spending

Some people celebrate “Buy Nothing Day” — which aptly falls on Black Friday — as a protest against the rampant consumerism in modern culture.  The idea is to avoid buying unnecessary items and, instead, to spend more time with family and friends, and, literally, “live freely.”

Rolls of Dollar BillsA British woman took the concept more than a few steps farther, and decided to go for a year without buying anything beyond the basics.  That meant that she paid her mortgage and utilities and not much else, bought food in bulk and cooked her own meals, and rode her bike to work rather than taking the subway.  No dining out or drinks at the pub, no trips to the movies, no new clothes, no travel or vacations, and no luxury items like fancy foods.  She also turned down friends and family who wanted to buy her gifts.

To her surprise, she made it through the year, with the winter months being the toughest.  She saved a lot of money — about $27,000, all told — and found that she had come to enjoy simple things, like a picnic in the park or a walk through a museum that didn’t charge admission.  She also feels that she became closer to her family and friends.  In short, she says she learned that money didn’t buy happiness.

The most instructive part of the woman’s story of consumerist self-deprivation is this admission:  “I’d set myself budgets and spending plans in the past and they’d always fallen by the wayside on my next night out.”  People spend themselves into oblivion because they don’t have the self-discipline to control their behavior, whether it’s sticking to a budget or simply exercising good judgment on spending and refraining from making impulse purchases.  And then, at some point, they look around at a place cluttered with stuff they don’t use and clothes they don’t wear, and wonder where all the money went.

I wouldn’t want to go for a year without traveling, or enjoying a drink out with friends, or savoring a good meal on a special occasion.  Those are some of the things that make like special.  But avoiding unnecessary spending, living a more minimalist, possession-free life, and feeling a certain sense of pride that you’ve got your finances under control affords its own satisfaction, too.

Feet Off The Furniture!

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway has come under fierce criticism on social media after a picture showed her perched on one of the couches in the Oval Office, with her feet tucked under her.  Close-ups showed that she was wearing shoes at the time, and her heels were digging in to the fabric.

TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMPGasp!

Critics said she was being disrespectful of the Oval Office through her pose and her treatment of the furniture.  Conway says she meant no disrespect, and her defenders say she was just getting ready to use her phone to take a photo of President Trump meeting with leaders of historic black colleges.  They also cite pictures of President Obama with his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office.  (And, of course, it’s not just any desk, it’s the famous Resolute desk made from timbers of the British vessel  H.M.S. Resolute and presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880, and therefore presumably has a lot more history going for it than the sofa on which Conway was perched.)

Only one month or so into the new Administration, and already we’ve reached the point of arguing about treatment of furniture!  Hey, I know — let’s call it “Sofagate”!

desk1Maybe some of the angst about the furniture in the Oval Office comes from people whose parents were hyper-concerned about maintaining the condition the furniture in their home, and covered it with uncomfortable plastic slip covers for daily use so the furniture would always look brand new for company.  These were the people whose mothers were always yelling “feet off the furniture!” when you went over to their house as kids.  Other people, like the Webners, grew up in households where furniture was not viewed as a some kind of sacred item and putting your feet up on the coffee table, or stretching out on the sofa to watch TV, was a perfectly acceptable practice and a little wear and tear on the couch and chairs was to be expected.  And still other people recognize that putting your feet up on a wooden desk is different than putting shoe-clad feet up on a fabric-covered sofa.

This is a classic example of the kind of tempest in a teapot that makes Washington so baffling and weird, with people with an inside-the-Beltway mentality consciously trying to blow little things up into huge disputes.  It’s gotten worse in the social media age, where Twitter allows anyone (including our new President) to immediately make snide comments about anything and everything and create purportedly hilarious “memes.”

In the grand scheme of things, shoes with heels on an anonymous sofa, even one in the Oval Office, aren’t that big a deal.  With President Trump in office, there’s lots of meaningful, substantive stuff to argue about.  Can’t we at least focus on that, rather than feet on the furniture?