Monday, January 31, 2011

Medical issues

Last week, I'd been having some tooth pain on my left side.  It was never severe pain, but it did wake me up a few times.  I talked to the staff nurse and she suggested I go see a dentist in Belize City.  Given Belize's medical standards, I was a bit skeptical about going to a dentist here.  But I was pleasantly surprised with both the facilities and the doctor.  The doctor was educated at Marquette.  He took a couple x-rays and determined that I needed 2 (TWO!) root canals.
I can't say that I was surprised by the diagnosis.  I have horrible teeth.  In my adult life, I have spent probably around $10,000 in premiums and co-pays.  I've had 3 crowns and way too many cavities - some pretty severe.  My last dentist kept telling me I'd probably need a root canal, but since the point of a root canal is to get rid of pain (and I never really had pain), I had never had one done.  So, when my Belizean dentist told me I needed one on Thursday, I wasn't exactly surprised.  He offered to do it then, but I had a lunch date that afternoon and plans for the weekend, so I put it off until today.

The root canal was no problem.  But when I was driving in to Belize City, I noticed my wrist starting to swell from a bug bite I had gotten the day before.  The swelling kept up most of the morning, so I went to see the nurse.  Turns out I am allergic to some bug (which is strange since I have no other allergies) and my wrist as ballooned up something fierce.  The nurse has put me on benadryl and other antibiotics.  I can't work or drive for at least the next two days due to the meds.   Who would have thought that the root canal would be the least of medical issues today?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What people are searching for

There are several fun tools that you can play with to discover who is coming to your blog and how they are getting there.  If you look at the Feedjit gadget in the side bar, you can click on real time and see where people are visiting from.  If they clicked from another site, it will tell you.  If they got here from Google with a search, it will tell me what they searched for.  Google analytics does the same thing but it compiles the information over time. 
The top searches are ones where people are clearly looking for me or for other foreign service related things:
  1. Call me al foreign sevice blog
  2. foreign service
  4. call me al blog belize
  5. al tikal
But in my view the most interesting things are the random searches that somehow got people to my blog.  Some of my favorites -
  • "had to get" "glasses"
  • a joke about looking in the mirror
  • americans acting like children
  • belmopan friends with benefit (this may be my favorite)
  • call me electronica
  • december is that you can call me january
  • does christian bale play poker in las vegas on new years
  • how to do with diversity in my addiction
  • how do you call ambassador's wife
  • i'm a foreign service officer belize belmopan
  • similarities between beer pong and bowling
I can also see where people are at when they read my blog (or at least where their IP says they are).
By far, most of my readers come from the US (over 75%).  I have had visitors from 48 of 50 states (what, you too good for me South Dakota and Vermont).  The highest concentration is in Virginia, then California (thanks Bob), New York, Arizona, Nebraska, Florida and Texas.  In the world, Guatemala, Belize, UK, and Japan, Mexico, Brazil, France, India, and Canada round out my top 10.  Overall, 92 countries have visited.

Analytics will also tell me what my most popular posts are.  By far, is my Flag Day post with almost 1400 hits (about 25% of my total traffic).  A very distant second place goes to the Ultimate Road Trip, (about 150 total hits) where I dreamed about my unfulfilled plans to road trip from DC to Belize.  That is closely followed by Crap I've bought for Belize, Chetumal, Packout and Beyond, and How I got here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Foreign Service Blogs

I've added quite a few blogs to my blog roll.  Most of these are foreign service blogs, but some are other friends of mine or blogs I read regularly.  I was recently added to a listing on the State Dept. Careers website. 

Be sure to check them out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sounding Board

As any State Department employee can tell you, one of the greatest things to come from Secretary Clinton's reign over the foreign affairs is the Sounding Board.  It is a message board where people can post ideas on ways to improve the State Department and other people can viciously shoot them down.  It is high entertainment.  One of today's subject was about whether there should be two spaces after a sentence (Slate says no, I say yes).  That led to someone posting this essay written by Dean Acheson.

Of Mice and Mail
By Dean Acheson
From Foreign Service Journal, May 1965

Long ago, when the world was young, the official censor of English usage and prose style in the Department of State was a charming lady with an imposing and elegant coiffure. In those days we were in the old State War, and Navy Building, just west of the White House. Affection for its tiers of pillared balconies and mansard roof and its present mantle of soft dove gray is the touchstone which separates aging Victorian aesthetes from neoclassicists and moderns. We loved, also, its swinging, slatted, saloon-type half doors. They not only provided ventilation before air conditioning and permitted most covenants to be overheard and hence openly arrived at, but their vicious swings into the hall created a sporting hazard for passersby.

The Department was much smaller then. The country had not yet reluctantly donned the imperial purple of world leadership, or acquired a voice heard hourly around the world, or discovered and exchanged culture; nor was it required to cope with the mounting ill will of the objects of its solicitude and generosity. The days when the Department would
add to its little nucleus of diplomatists the equivalent of Montgomery Ward, Chautauqua, CBS, and Lincoln Center were still mercifully ahead.

So much smaller was it that at the end of the day the elegantly coiffured chieftainess of the Division of Coordination and Review could and did bring to my office all the important departmental mail, to be read and signed over the title Acting Secretary. We began with a ritual which would have puzzled the uninitiated. She pulled a chair close to
the front of my desk and then sat, not on it, but in it – that is, she perched herself crosslegged in the chair. And thereby hangs a tale.

The Undersecretary’s mouse lived in his office fireplace, where for years a wood fire had been laid but never touched, much less lighted. Probably generations of internationally minded mice had grown up within the log structure and gone on to positions in the United Nations. When the long day’s work was ending and the busy office was hushed and the fever of departmental life was over, the mouse would come out. Some atavistic fear or urge, older than time, leads women to slander mice by believing that they harbor a lascivious desire to run up the female leg. Elephants seem to share this fear. At any rate, both are traditionally nervous in the presence of mice.

From her safe haven the chieftainess could observe the mouse without tremors as we tackled the mail. For years she had battled bravely with the bureaucracy and maintained the State Department’s standard of literacy high above that, for instance, of the Department of Agriculture of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. But time had dampened the fire and dulled her cutting edge. She welcomed the help of fresh enthusiasm and a
new blade.

We won a few opening and easy victories over phrases with no solid support—villainous expressions like “as regards to,” “acknowledging yours of,” “regretting our delay in,” and so on. Then came our first major attack on a departmental favorite. The target was the use of the verb “to feel” to describe the Department’s cogitating and deciding process.
“The Department feels that to adopt the course you urge would not,” et cetera, et cetera. The Department could, I insisted, decide, agree, disagree, approve, disapprove, conclude, and on rare occasions, and vicariously, think, but never feel. It had no feelings. It was incapable of feeling. So the ukase was issued that departmental feeling was out.

The immediacy of our success brought home to us the immensity of our combined power over the written words. When the chieftainess eliminated feeling from every letter no matter by whom written and I signed letters brought to me only by her, the Department simply ceased to feel. Absolute power, Lord Acton wrote, corrupts absolutely. But in our case, it was not so. Moderation was our guide. The tumbrel was filled discriminately. Into it went “implement” and “contact” used as verbs – “the Department must implement the Act of Congress” or “you should contact the Consul General at Antwerp.” These horrors sneezed into the sack. So did “finalize,” “analogize,” and “flexible” when used to modify “approach.” “To trigger” would have done so likewise if anyone had dared use it.

Thus far the natives showed no signs of restlessness under the new order. Indeed, they hardly noticed the increased literacy and clarity of their returning carbon copies. But our pruning knives soon cut deeper into clichés which had taken the place of thought. The first of these was “contraproductive.” What would a congressman think, I asked, when
he read, “The course you proposed would, in the Department’s view, prove to be contraproductive”? It would sound to him suspiciously like a veiled reference to birth control.

Once started on this line of thought, we soon added to the proscribed list two other phrases, also likely to suggest undue familiarity with the shady side of sex. These were “abortive attempts” and “emasculating amendments.” “Crippling” amendments were bad enough. Why not, in both cases, switch to “stultifying” for a change?

Even those oddities were put down to no more than reluctance to admit modern ruggedness of speech into official correspondence. But when the guns were turned on “sincere” the murmurs grew. “For proof of Russian sincerity,” someone would write, “we look to deeds not words.” Nothing could have been more misleading or misinformed concerning both the meaning of the word and the nature of the Russians. Under pressure all would agree that Webster relegated to fifth place the letter writer’s
belief that “sincere” meant “virtuous.” As its first meaning, Noah put down just what the Russians were: “pure; unmixed; unadulterated; as sincere as milk,” or, one might add, as sincere – that is, unmixed and unadulterated – trouble. He even quoted the eighteenth-century wit, physician, and friend of Pope and Swift, John Arbuthnot, as writing (incomprehensibly), “There is no sincere acid in any animal juice.” That clinched the matter, and “sincere” as an adjectival encomium went on the Index Prohibitorum.

We were tempted to go further and rule out “Sincerely yours,” either as a self-serving declaration that the Department was “unmixed,” which was false on its face, or that, taking a lower meaning, it was “without deceit,” which the body of the letter usually disproved. We preferred “Respectfully yours” for our superiors in the White House and
the Capitol, a reserved “Very truly yours” for the citizenry and for foreign VIP’s the stately “With renewed expressions of my highest esteem” (a delightful phrase, since the expressions were never expressed). But “Sincerely yours,” having by usage been deprived of all meaning, was finally adjudged suitable for the departmental use.

Thus we strove mightily at the noble task of returning the Department’s prose to a Jeffersonian level; but we strove against the current. We became obstacles to efficiency. The mail backed up. Congressmen complained of the delay in answering their letters and refused to be assuaged by the superior prose of the answers when they did not come.

When the first symptoms of elephantiasis appeared with our absorption of Colonel Donovan’s Research and Intelligence people and Elmer Davis’ foreign-broadcasting facilities, our doom was sealed. Our evening sessions with the mail became as hopelessly inadequate as Gandhi’s spinning wheel. The revolution of expansion swept our ukases away, and through the ruins the exiled phrases defiantly marched back, contacting, implementing, feeling, contraproducing, aborting, and emasculating in shameless abandon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back to Work

I had an awesome vacation.  It was great to spend time with my family.  We moved my sister into a new house - I got an awesome TV.  I spent two days in Vegas (spent less in Vegas than Wal-Mart).  I saw most of my extended family.  I even managed to see enough snow to last me for the year.
Usually, I am not there for the family get together and it is my senior portrait being held up.  But this time, I was  home while Shelley was working at Christmas.

Me with Nana and Nanu.  Nanu is doing much better after being very sick this fall.

New York, New York skyline on the Strip

Ezekial, my cousin Jenny's son. He liked the camera.
Coming back this week, my big project was working on the Post of the Month article.  Each month, State Magazine (the official magazine of the State Department) features one of the Posts around the world.  The article is written by one of local officers and showcases photos of the post.  Back in September, our PAO (Public Affairs Officer) asked me if I'd like to write the article for when Belmopan is featured in the April issue of the magazine.  She knew I wrote this very blog and thought I might like to Post of the Month.  I, of course, said yes.  

(Note: this will be the third time I've been published - I had two articles published in Truman State's history journal my senior year and my article on gerrymandering was published in the St. Louis University Public Law Review.  This will clearly be my largest audience.  Besides the fact that it is awesome to get published, this will also be awesome for my EER (performance review).  Not many people get to write these articles and even fewer first tour Consular officers without any PD experience.)

When I went on vacation, I thought the article was due at the end of the month.  When I got back on Monday January 10, I found out it was actually do on January 15.  So, that is what I spent most of my week on.  I got the article drafted, edited, cleared and turned in.  The article will appear in the April issue - so I will link to it when it is ready.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve and Resolutions

I have never really had a good New Year's Eve.  It's not that the night is a disappointment by lofty standards or anything - the night has actually been below average to awful.  Some of the low lights include getting a black eye, having to physically restrain my drunk sister, working (both at the restaurant and grocery store), and watching a movie at home with my dog.  My best New Years Eve was probably a few years ago when I went to play BINGO with parents and grandparents and I got BINGO in an early bird game and won $100 (I still lost money this night).

So, when I went out with my sister and her friends last night, I was merely hoping to avoid disaster.  We went out to the Tempe block party.  We went to a couple of bars (including the very cool "Big Bang" which features dueling pianos and $3 beers) and I had an average to above average night out.  There were no fights, no arrests, no injuries, no accidents - which made it a fantastic New Year's Eve.

I know many people had a rough 2010, but 2010 was pretty damn good to me.  I got an awesome job in the Foreign Service.  I got assigned to an amazing post in Belize.  I've traveled (Israel, Belize, Guatemala, Vegas, and Phoenix).  I've made good friends.  2010 was a pretty good year for me.  But, that does mean that 2011 can't be better.  Here are a few goals for 2011.

  1. Quit smoking (again).  I quit smoking after law school, but started social smoking this year.  That expanded to regular smoking late this year.  I quit again on December 22 and so far, so good.
  2. Travel to at least 3 central American countries (in order of preference) - Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador
  3. Watch at least two sun rises and sunsets.  I have had this goal every year and I usually make it.  Sunsets are much easier for me to watch than sun rises.
  4. Get an awesome second posting.  This summer, I will get my bid list and get my assignment for my next post.
  5. Date more.